Wednesday, 5 January 2011

IMAM BAYILDI

The name of this seductive and succulent dish literally translates as "the Imam (priest) swooned" and story goes that when the Imam tasted it, he fainted with delight because it was so delicious. It is one of those wonderful dishes that relies on very few ingredients, yet cooked together, the end result is utterly sublime. It is a useful standby for vegetarians, and makes a great starter served with other mezze or tapas dishes. I first tried it at a branch of Sofra, a small chain of excellent Turkish restaurants and cafes in London. I remember it was served at room temperature, but it is equally tasty served hot. The trick is to cook it so that the ingredients remain distinct, delicately intertwined, like a Moorish arabesque, rather than cooked to a mush. It can be made in advance and reheated, and, if anything, it is better made a day ahead.

I cook this dish in a large, deep frying pan, on the hob, keeping the lid on until nearly all the liquid has evaporated and a caramelly sauce is left.

2 aubergines
1 large onion, finely sliced vertically
3 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Bunch fresh parsley, dill and basil, finely chopped
Salt
150ml olive oil
4 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
Juice of half a lemon

Cut the aubergines in half, lengthways, and slash lightly with a knife. Heat some olive oil in the pan and fry the aubergines, flesh-side down, until golden brown. Remove from heat.

Mix the sliced onion, chopped tomatoes and garlic together, and add the herbs. Season with salt and add a little olive oil and the sugar.

Turn the aubergines over and pile the tomato-onion mixture on top of the flesh. Add the water and lemon juice to the pan and bring up to a simmer. Cook covered until the aubergine flesh is soft (about 30 mins).

If I am serving this as a main course, I do a bowl of fluffy couscous. It also goes well with Favourite Salad, or a simple green salad. You can add slices of Halloumi cheese, or Feta.

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