Refreshing Turkish stuffed eggplant imam bayildi

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Cold Turkish stuffed eggplant imam bayildi

Despite this being the season of delicious summer vegetables, they tend to be cooked the same way all the time. Here, traveling cooking expert Asami Kuchio shares her recipe for a cold version of Turkish stuffed eggplant. It is an exotic dish full of the natural, distinctive flavor of the vegetables used.

The name of this homestyle dish —imam bayldi—which is loved by many Turkish people, means “so delicious the imam [Muslim leader] fainted.”

Many people associate Turkish cuisine with meat dishes such as shish kebab, but Kuchio said, “Many Turkish dishes are made with plenty of vegetables, such as eggplant and tomato.”

For example, a thick tomato paste called “salca” is like miso in Japan in that it is used in all kinds of dishes in Turkey. Tomato paste is also used in this eggplant dish as the sauce.

The eggplants should be removed from the oil when their surface becomes soft because it is difficult to stuff them with vegetables when over-fried and soggy. “The eggplants will continue to cook with the residual heat. You don’t have to worry about cooking them all the way through since they will be baked in the oven later,” Kuchio said.

The stuffing uses onions, tomatoes, shishito peppers and Italian parsley. Green chilis can be used instead of shishito peppers if you like it spicy. Then add cayenne pepper, cumin and other spices and herbs to add flavor, and cook until the water from the vegetables has reduced. Make a slit in the eggplants and stuff them with the vegetables, then place in a baking dish along with tomato paste diluted with water. Finally, roast them in the oven.

Kuchio said the dish tastes better if chilled, so I left it in the refrigerator overnight before eating it. I could not help but smile as my mouth was filled with the cold juices, rich in the flavor of delicious vegetables, along with the aroma of cumin. It is a dish for anyone who loves eggplant.

Salty yogurt drink

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Salty yogurt drink ayran

Along with tomato, yogurt is a common ingredient in Turkish cuisine. Kuchio makes a salty yogurt drink called “ayran.”

To make the drink, all you have to do is mix plain yogurt with water and salt. “As the thickness and flavor of the drink are a personal preference, the amount of water and salt can be freely adjusted,” she said. It has a refreshing taste and is perfect for this time of year.

Cold imam bayildi

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

  • 4 to 6 eggplants
  • 1 onion
  • 2 to 3 shishito peppers
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • ½ tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • Directions:

1. Peel the eggplants in three sections lengthwise, leaving the ends on. Fry in oil at a medium temperature.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Eggplants are fried in oil.

2. Thinly slice onion, chop shishito peppers and garlic, and roughly chop tomato. Heat olive oil in a frying pan and saute onion until soft. Add shishito peppers, tomato, garlic, Italian parsley, ½ teaspoon of salt, a pinch of pepper, cayenne pepper, basil and cumin. Simmer until it becomes thick.

3. When the eggplants have cooled enough to handle them, slit down the middle and stuff with the vegetable mixture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Eggplants are slit in the middle after they have cooled.

4. Combine tomato paste with 100 milliliters of water and put in a baking dish. Place eggplants in dish and bake in the oven at 200 C for 15-20 minutes.

5. Chill the dish, drizzle with extra olive oil and sprinkle with some chopped Italian parsley.