I hope you like aubergines as much as I do, because here’s another aubergine dish for you! As you can probably tell, I really like them…if they are cooked to bring the best out of them, that is! I think aubergines can either have the most delicate flavour and, like I mentioned in the previous post on baba ganouj, a meltingly soft texture, or they can be like a piece of cardboard or dry sponge with a rather bitter taste.
I think I started liking aubergines after my mom started preparing an aubergine dip which we used to call “aubergine caviar”…because before she brought that recipe home, I recall she made another dish that was sort of an aubergine pudding set with eggs…with a grayish colour that already made it look unappealing and which was a warning for it’s taste! Sorry mom, you know how much I hated it! So, to me it can be heaven or hell.
This delicious dish, originally from Turkey, I discovered in a blog before I even visited that country and tried some traditional recipes. And the truth is that although one of the things I liked most of turkish gastronomy is how well they cook aubergines and the variety of dishes in which it is used, I continue to like the way of preparing this dish I learnt from that…Greek…Blog! Here’s a little adapted recipe, though the method is the same, but to read the original recipe go to Greek Gourmand.
One last word, Imam Bayildi is a vegetarian dish filled with a tomato sauce, but you can adapt this recipe to your taste filling it with your favourite bolognese sauce or any thick tomato-based sauce. I love to twitch the recipe and add some crumbled greek feta and sliced roasted pepper… So, I encourage you to experiment changing the filling to make it the dish that best suits your liking!
(for 3 medium-large or 4 small aubergines)
1 Kg of aubergines ( I used 3 medium size, but you can use 4 smallish ones)
400g of onion
~250g of tomatoes or tomato purée
2 garlic cloves
pinch of grated nutmeg
pinch of black pepper
pinch of lemon rind
pinch of salt
~400 ml of olive oil
~30g breadcrumbs or panko (japanese super crunchy bread crumbs)
1 tsp parsley for decoration
Wash the aubergines and dry them and make one first incision across each eggplant lengthwise, starting from just underneath the stem, up until just before the end, in order to leave it attached from both ends but cut in half. See below:
Then, repeat the same at a 90º angle to end up with the aubergine cut in 4 but attached at both ends.
Open the aubergine from each cut and salt it generously. As was common practice before when aubergines were more bitter, some recipes recommend to leave the aubergines in a salted water bath for about an hour. But I find it is not necessary. It’s up to you if you find it improves taste to your particular eggplants.
If you’ve left in a salted water bath, pat dry well.
Heat up at medium heat (in my induction that goes from 1-11, I use 7) the olive oil in a pan that will fit all aubergines, even if they seem tight, that’s ok, as as they cook they’ll become really soft and fit better. Fill it up with the oil ( I know you may think it’s a lot of oil. It is, but I find this works better than using less oil and turning the aubergines all the time. Also, I’m lazy when it comes to frying and then cleaning up the pan, but I assure you that the resulting texture is worth it! Plus, it’s not wasted. As soon as you’ve finished you can strain it and leave it for any other uses. I always keep my strained used oil tupperware near the hobs for whenever I need to fry).
Place your aubergines and fry them until soft. Depending on how much the oil covers them, turn them once to do the two halves or 4 times for each fourth. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust the heat if you need to, the aubergines should soften without barely browning. You’ll see how the skin will appear wrinkled and they’ll be really soft if you try to lift them up.
When they are ready, remove them on to a strainer to let excess oil drain.
Now, look at that texture I keep going on about, it’s butter-soft…
Place in an oven tray or pyrex with one of the incisions facing upward, as that is where you’ll place our filling.
Now onto the filling. Cut the onions in fine brunoise and sauté with about a tablespoon of olive oil at medium low heat until it becomes really soft.
Then add the grated garlic and let it cook a bit, don’t let it brown!
Blend the tomatoes and strain them to get just the pulp and add that in. Increase the heat and let the tomato cook off until you can see the oil separating, that means it’s lost all it’s water and it’s caramelising. Now season to taste with the salt, black pepper, nutmeg and lemon rind (you could omit this, but I love the fresh taste it brings into the dish, even though it’s less than half a teaspoon).
Fill up your aubergines with the tomato sauce .
Dust the tops with bread crumbs. I use panko as it results in a crisper layer once roasted or fried.
Finally place in a 180ºC preheated oven for about 40 minutes. Check at 30 minutes to make sure the tops are not too brown (oven temperatures are not always what they display to be!). And that’s it! Now if you can wait to eat it the next day, I think it improves in flavour as they all blend in and also the texture of the aubergine is better.
Ah, you can eat everything!! I mean the skin can be eaten as well, unless right off the oven you find some bits are still a bit dry (if you leave it rest overnight, it softens)…so, all but the stem!
If you like, before serving sprinkle some chopped parsley for decoration, but it tastes equally good without!
Here’s a cross-section shot, to show you how the sauce blends into the aubergine:
Try it and tell me if you like aubergines or not!