May 28, 2011

Edirnekapi, Istanbul. June, 2007

I had heard about Imam Bayildi for decades, first in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, most recently in the Middle Eastern stores of my Watertown, MA, neighborhood. The name translates as “The Priest Swooned,” and various legends abound to explain why: The priest fainted because the taste was so good; he was aghast at the cost of the ingredients, at how much olive oil was used, etc. The dish, part of a category (zetinyağli) of Turkish meze dishes cooked in olive oil and served at room temperature, is not all that difficult to make (why did I wait until February, 2011 -- see tomorrow’s post -- to make it for the first time?) and worth whatever effort you devote to it. Peel stripes from six baby (Italian) eggplants, leaving the stem intact. Fry the eggplants in oil until they are “almost done,” then slit them once lengthwise (but not to the very ends) and fill the slits with a mixture of sliced onions, tomatoes, parsley, sometimes dill, sometimes lemon juice, sugar and lots of garlic all cooked in more oil. Pour a mix of more oil and water a third up the sides of the eggplants in a baking dish, cover, braise on the stovetop or in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Cool, serve, enjoy. The first time I tasted this fabled dish (versions reportedly exist from Roman and medieval times though it was perfected during the later Ottoman Empire) was at the superb restaurant Asitane in an outlying neighborhood of Istanbul. Terrific, of course. But the ones I made were terrific, too, so I suspect that huge amounts of garlic and oil pretty much assure a high success rate.

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