Imam Bayildi – Olive oil meets eggplant for a vegan treat

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

A folktale that surrounds the imam bayıldı dish goes back many years. An elderly imam, or Islamic cleric, marries the daughter of an olive oil merchant, who gives the imam 12 casks of prized oil as a wedding gift. The newly wedded wife uses this oil to make a delectable eggplant dish that is so good, the imam asks her to cook it every day. But on the 13th day, she did not make the eggplant dish, and he asks why. She replies that she had used up all the olive oil, causing the imam faint in disbelief. Some say that’s how the dish got its name, imam bayıldı, which translates to the “imam fainted.” Fainting in this context, however, can also mean “swoon.” Either way, let’s have a look at the origins!

What is imam bayildi?

Imam bayildi is an eggplant that is stuffed with onions, tomatoes and garlic and then simmered in olive oil. As with many olive oil-based dishes, this is usually eaten warm rather than hot, or, depending on your preference, even cold.

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The origins

Eggplant was introduced into Turkish cuisine during the Seljuk period through the Arabs and within a few years become one of most beloved vegetables of Ottoman cuisine, with zucchini ranking second. This love for eggplant is made apparent through the almost legendary 51 different ways the vegetable was prepared in Ottoman times.
The reason many new dishes were invented in the Ottoman era was due to the many highly specialized chefs who worked in the palace kitchens. One such example is of the statesman Defterdarzade Mehmed Pasha, who would take 40 cooks with him when he traveled, each one specializing in a certain dish. The chefs would be reprimanded if the dish prepared was not up to par, but would be rewarded if they invented something new and tasty. This encouragement led to the invention of a score of new recipes that are still enjoyed today, one of which is imam bayıldı. The first recipe of the olive oil-based dish was published in “Melceü’t Tabbahin” by Mehmet Kamil in 1844. It is no surprise that the meatless dish became popular throughout the region and even reached Greece, where it is to this day referred to as “imám baildí” as well.

Etymology

Imam bayıldı literally means the imam fainted, and as mentioned above, the name is linked to a legend in which an imam either fainted in shock at the amount of olive oil used, or swooned over the delicious nature of the dish. In the translation of the cookbook “Melceü’t Tabbahin,” Turabi Efendi chose to translate the dish as “the priest fainted.”

Imam Bayıldı - olive oil meets eggplant for a vegan treat

Just like with karnıyarık, you’ll want to find straight and similarly sized eggplants for all portions.

Ingredients

  • 5 eggplant
  • 2-3 onions
  • 7-8 cloves garlic
  • 3-4 tomatoes
  • 4 peppers
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 400 ml hot water
  • vegetable oil, for frying

Instructions

  • Peel the skill off the eggplants lengthwise and in stripes, leaving some stripes of skin. Let these rest in salty water for about half an hour to draw out the bitterness. Dry them off and fry them in oil until the flesh changes to a golden color.
  • Forthe filling chop, the onions, peppers and garlic as fine as possible and sautét hem in olive oil until they have softened. Peel and finely chop the tomatoesand add them to the onion mixture together with the seasoning. Cook for about10 minutes and turn off the heat.
  • Use a fork to carefully slice open the eggplants to avoid damaging the sides of the eggplants. Fill the eggplants with the sautéed vegetable mixture. Place them back in the frying pan and pour a little hot water over the eggplants. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cover with a lid for 20 minutes.
  • Once done, the imam bayıldı can be served warm or cold.

Notes

Tip

Many like to serve imam bayıldı with an additional sauce made out of roasted tomato paste and olive oil. This sauce can be sprinkled over the dish if desired.

Bibliography

(1) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine”, 2018
(2) Marianna Yerasimos, “500 Yıllık Osmanlı Mutfağı”, 2002
(3) Paulina B. Lewicka, “Food and Foodways of Medieval Cairenes: Aspects of Life in an Islamic Metropolis of the Eastern Mediterranean”, 2011
(4) Marianna Yerasimos “17. Yüzyılda İstanbul Sokaklarında Satılan Yiyecekler ve İçecekler; Dükkanlar ve Seyyarlar”, 2020
Course: Main Course, Vegan
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