This Turkish dish is so good that the imam fainted. Or that is at least one version of how this aubergine dish got its name, imam bayıldı. But when the smell of cinnamon and the other spices started drifting through my kitchen, I found that story pretty plausible. Of course I had eaten it before, plenty of times actually, because in Istanbul every good lokanta (small self-service restaurants that cook their own food) sells it. And I remember how often I used to go to my favorite lokanta for either lunch or dinner or sometimes for both because they are comparably cheap and the food is usually great. Also they offer at least ten different dishes every day (not even including salads and desserts), and the choice differs almost every day.
But here in Boston there isn’t any lokanta. I could possibly afford going to McDonald’s every day, but it still wouldn’t be the same. Especially since McDonald’s doesn’t fulfill any of the above mentioned characteristics of a lokanta. In that way living in the U.S. has been quite helpful: I have to learn how to cook all my favorite Turkish dishes if I want to eat them. And that is actually fun because I have long figured out that most of them are simple and don’t require many different ingredients (or at least none you usually don’t have at home anyways). And imam bayıldı mainly consists of the two very basic ingredients of aubergine and tomatoes. The rest is just there to increase the flavor. When you eat it, it tastes fruity at first and then spicy. This is why all the Turks I know and I eat yogurt along with it. I mean most Turkish people seem to it yogurt as a side to each meal, but here it definitely makes sense. You can easily make your own yogurt, here I explained how.
What I also like about imam bayıldı is that I can prepare it in the evening, and once it is in the oven, I can do other things besides. In my opinion it tastes even better on the next day because the spices have more time to infuse. This also makes it a great meal for me to take to work. Have I ever told you that I’m bringing my own lunch to work every day? We have got a little kitchen at work that consists of a fridge and three microwaves. There is a supermarket across the street, but getting lunch from there is comparably pricy (yes, more than at McDonald’s, although there is one down the street too). Therefore I try to bring my lunch from home as often as possible. So far nobody has fainted yet when they smelled my imam bayıldı though. Well, maybe it is for the better.
Recipe: İmam bayıldı
- 1 big aubergine
- 4 tomatoes
- 1/2 onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. biber salçası red pepper paste
- olive oil
- 1 pinch of cinnamon; sumac
- paprika powder red pepper flakes
- salt pepper
- Cut the aubergine into quarters.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan. Don't skimp on the oil because the aubergine soaks up a lot. Roast the aubergine quarters gently. Take them out of the pan and put them into a ovenproof dish.
- Preheat the oven to 200 °C (or 400 °F).
- Add all the other ingredients to the pan. If there is no oil left, add some more. Fry until the tomatoes are mushy.
- Spread the tomato mix on top of the aubergine quarters.
- Cover with aluminum foil. Put the dish in the oven for 30 minutes.
Serve with bulgur and yogurt.