Imam Bayildi, or ‘The Priest Wept’, is a Turkish stuffed eggplant recipe that makes a wonderful vegetarian meal!
Imam Bayildi starts with perfect eggplant
I have the worst shopping habits. My mother always tried to teach me to buy complete outfits, not random bits and pieces that happen to catch my eye. I never listened to her, I prefer to let passion guide me. No surprise, I grocery shop the same way. The other day I bagged these gorgeous glossy eggplants without a clue about what I was going to do with them. Google came to my rescue with this most fascinating recipe for Imam Bayildi.
what is Turkish stuffed eggplant?
Imam Bayildi, or The Priest Wept (or fainted, or was exhilarated, depending on your translation source) is an ancient Turkish recipe. It’s a stuffed eggplant dish made with so much olive oil that, so the stories go, the priest was either overwhelmed by the sheer amount, cost, or deliciousness of all that oil. Probably all three.
It is usually served as a vegetarian or vegan main course, although some recipes call for the addition of meat. The dish is typically made by first frying eggplant in olive oil, then stuffing it with a mixture of onions, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs before baking it in the oven. It is often served cold or at room temperature and can be garnished with herbs, olives, or feta cheese.
history of Imam Bayildi
There are several stories about the origins of Imam Bayildi, but the most commonly cited one comes from Turkey. According to this story, a wealthy Ottoman imam (religious leader) in the city of Edirne married the daughter of a local olive oil merchant. As part of her dowry, the merchant gave the couple a large quantity of the finest olive oil.
The imam’s wife used the olive oil to prepare a dish of eggplant, onions, garlic, and tomatoes that was so delicious that the imam fainted upon tasting it. The dish became known as Imam Bayildi, in honor of the imam’s reaction.
Another story, which is less well-known, comes from Greece. According to this version, a poor imam in Greece made the dish with a limited amount of olive oil and was so overwhelmed by the taste that he fainted.
ingredients you’ll need for Turkish stuffed eggplant
I cut back a bit on the oil, I don’t want anyone fainting. But don’t skimp on the fresh herbs, they’re essential to this dish.
- olive oil
- chopped parsley
- chopped mint
- chopped dill
- salt and pepper
- feta cheese for garnish
- chopped pistachios for garnish
So the moral of this story is, sometimes passion driven shopping pays off. Now if only I could find something to go with that gold sequin tank top…
more Mediterranean meals to try
Imam Bayildi ‘The Priest Wept’ (Turkish Stuffed Eggplant)
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Halve the onion and finely slice it. Mince the garlic.
- Heat about 1/4 cup of the oil in a pan and saute the onions and garlic for about 20 minutes, on medium low, until they are soft. Add in the allspice and cardamom.
- Meanwhile halve the eggplants lengthwise and cut a small section off the rounded bottoms so they will sit in the baking dish securely. Using a vegetable peeler, peel a few strips of the peel off to make a striped effect. This will allow the juices and flavors to penetrate into the eggplant better. Finally, make a slit down the center of the flesh, being careful not to cut all the way through. Lay them out in a rectangle baking dish.
- Using a grapefruit spoon or melon baller, cut away a small amount of the flesh to make room for the filling. This step is optional, you can also just pile the filling right on top. Season the eggplant with salt, pepper, and the juice of half the lemon.
- Chop the tomatoes and add to a bowl along with the fresh herbs, juice of 1/2 the lemon, salt and pepper.
- Mix the onions with the tomatoes, making sure everything is evenly combined.
- Top each eggplant half with a mound of filling. Put any extra filling as well as 1/4 cup of water in the pan around the eggplant.
- Drizzle the eggplant with the remaining oil.
- Bake covered with foil for 1 hour, uncovering half way through.
- Serve with bread to sop up the juices. This is traditionally a meze, or Mediterranean small plate.