Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Imam Bayildi (The Imam Fainted)

Guest blogging for Hippocrene Cooks this week is Sheilah Kaufman, food editor of Jewish Women International's website and a contributing food writer to numerous publications, including Vegetarian Times Magazine and The Washington Post. Sheilah co-authored (with Nur Ilkin) A Taste of Turkish Cuisine, and this week presents two recipes from the much-celebrated kitchens of Turkey.

Some say that three major cuisines exist in the world: Turkish, Chinese, and French. At the crossroads of the Far East and the Mediterranean, Turkey has been the cradle of many civilizations throughout centuries. Its cuisine, which can be traced back more than 1400 years, fully reflects this rich historical background. While many well-known national cuisines rely on one basic element (e.g. French cuisine is characterized by sauces), there is no dominant ingredient or technique in the Turkish kitchen. Eggplant alone can be prepared in over 40 different ways.

There is a story that tells of a famous Turkish priest or imam who was so delighted with his wife’s eggplant creation that he fainted from pure pleasure. There are many versions of this dish. If possible, prepare this a day or two ahead so the flavors can mellow. This is one of Turkey’s most famous dishes.

Serves 6

6 Italian eggplants, 5 to 6 inches long
canola oil for frying
3 medium onions
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup chopped canned tomatoes
1 large tomato, sliced
1 green bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed, sliced into
½-inch strips

3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Wash the eggplants and remove the leaves from around the stem, but leave the stem on. With a sharp knife, leaving a 1
½-inch border of peel at the tops and bottoms of the eggplants, remove the peel from the rest of the eggplants. Cut a thin slice off the bottoms of the eggplants so they are flat. With a small sharp knife make a deep slit lengthwise, from the top of the peeled area to the bottom of the peeled area, completely through the eggplants. Sprinkle the eggplants with salt and let them stand for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse with cold water and dry them on a kitchen towel.

Place 2 to 3 inches of canola oil in a 5-to 6-quart pot or deep fryer and heat on high heat for about 10 minutes. Cook 2 to 4 eggplants at a time, depending on the size of the pot. Roll them frequently so they will lightly brown on all sides and cook evenly. Remove them from the oil when soft and let them drain in a fine sieve or colander. Cook the remaining eggplants the same way. Lay the cooked eggplants in one or two large oven-proof skillets with the cut side up. Using a spoon, carefully open the slit to widen it.

Cut the onions in half and slice into very thin semicircles. Cut again in the opposite direction so thin strips are formed. Heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the parsley, sugar, 1 to 2 teaspoons salt and canned tomatoes. Mix well. Stir and cook over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Open the slits in the eggplants with a spoon while the eggplants are still hot and stuff the long slash of the eggplant. Press mixture down gently as you fill the eggplants.

Preheat oven to 400ºF
. Pour 1 cup water around the sides of the eggplants in the pan. Garnish each eggplant with a slice of tomato and strip of green pepper on top. Cover and cook over medium heat and bring to a boil. Place pan(s), uncovered, in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool and serve, or cover and chill. Garnish with parsley.

Pictures courtesy of Sheilah Kaufman and Wikimedia Commons.

No comments: