Imam Bayildi is a classic Turkish recipe that brings savory eggplant and sweet summer tomatoes together in one silky, vegan, baked casserole. The name of this dish translates literally as "the priest fainted", and most of the folklore surrounding the name tells us he fainted because his dinner was exceedingly delicious.
When you make Imam Bayildi, be sure to salt your eggplant and let the pieces sit for about twenty minutes to draw out excess moisture and bitterness before you begin cooking. Otherwise the eggplant may not absorb the flavors as fully as possible and can retain some bitterness. After twenty minutes, wipe the salt off the eggplant and pat your slices dry with paper towels. Then your eggplant will be primed and ready to cook!
We created our own blend for this recipe because we wanted to bring the rich flavors of the Ottoman empire to this dish. The refreshing burst of Dried Mint plays well here against the citrusy, minty pepper of Ground Cardamom. And the sweet, almost maple-like flavor of Ground Fenugreek goes nicely against the puckery tartness of Ground Sumac. We also used Crushed Maras Pepper in this recipe to maintain that terrific Middle Eastern flavor, but any red chile flakes can be used in their place.
This meal assembles like a lasagna and does take a little bit of time to bake, but it’s worth it. It is a perfect vegetarian recipe for meatless Mondays; just add a fresh green salad and you're good to go. This recipe is best when made in stove-to-oven-friendly cast iron, but don't let it stop you if you don't have a cast iron pan. Fry the eggplant on the stove in whatever cookware works for you, then transfer everything to a casserole dish and bake. Our taste testers thought this recipe was especially fragrant and loved the vibrant colors in the dish.
- 2 medium eggplant (or 4 small Italian variety), about 1 3/4 lbs, thinly sliced into 1/4 inch lengthwise
- Fine Sea Salt as necessary to treat eggplant, plus 1/4 teaspoon for tomato sauce
- Olive oil as necessary to fry eggplant slices and onions
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon Crushed Maras Chiles
- 1 teaspoon Dried Mint
- 1 teaspoon Ground Sumac
- 1 teaspoon Ground Fenugreek
- 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cardamom
- 1 - 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley, divided
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Lightly salt eggplant slices and allow to stand for 20 minutes. After twenty minutes, wipe salt off, pat slices dry and set aside.
- Heat a small amount of olive oil over medium heat; if you have a pan that can go from stovetop to oven, choose to cook your eggplant in that. Pan fry the eggplant in batches until browned on each side. Add oil as necessary to the pan in between batches. Set aside.
- Put more oil if necessary in the skillet, then add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic, Crushed Maras Pepper flakes, Sea Salt, Dried Mint, Ground Sumac, Ground Fenugreek, and Ground Cardamom. Cook for about a minute, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, undrained, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in half the parsley.
- If using an oven-proof skillet, remove ¾ of the sauce and leave a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, add ¼ of the sauce to an 8x8 casserole dish. Arrange one layer of eggplant evenly in the bottom of pan. Put sauce on top, and continue to layer the eggplant, like a lasagna.
- Cover with foil and bake in oven for 45 minutes. The eggplant will be very soft and the sauce will be slightly reduced. Allow 10 minutes to cool before serving. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve.