My version of Imam Bayildi

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I found 4 variations in 4 cookery books I have of this dish and I suspect if I looked in other books I would also find further variations.  It seems everyone puts their twist on what is essentially a very simple dish of aubergines stuffed with onion and tomato sauce.

Claudia Roden’s version in  Arabesque book was the plainest with only onions, tomatoes and parsley in the sauce.  My favourite looking version was by Arto der Haroutunian’s in Middle Eastern Cookery using allspice.  I love allspice and think is under-used, I often use it in sweet dishes to replace cinnamon.  I also like the idea of using fresh dill in Leanne Kitchen’s Turkey book.  Dill when cooked down is less brash and adds a lovely background flavour.

Some recipes added only two tomatoes, another added six tomatoes, in another green pepper was added to the sauce.

Method of cooking the aubergine

When reading all of these variations they followed very similar steps with the cooking of the aubergine.  They all left the aubergine flesh intact.  Either a slit in the aubergine was made to form a pocket to stuff it with the sauce or the aubergine was cut in half and the sauce was poured over them before baking it.  This method of leaving the aubergine pulp undisturbed seemed a waste of an opportunity of adding flavour to it.  The aubergines were fried in oil separately to soften in order to take the sauce.

Whether you made holes to form pockets or cut it in half the result would be the same, the aubergine by the end of cooking would still have a huge fleshy part of it with no seasoning and no flavour in the middle of its interior.  So why not change that?

My idea

Why not take half the fleshy part and cook it in the sauce adding flavour to it and then stuff it back into the aubergine?

This way I’m eating aubergine that has properly absorbed the flavours of the sauce.  And that’s what I did.  This way it also meant I didn’t have to fry the aubergine first.

This is one of my favourite vegetable dishes ever.  It’s even better left at room temperature overnight or at least for a few good hours as the subtle flavours of the spices deepen.

How to cook aubergine stuffed with tomatoes

Start off by chopping the onion or slice it thinly.

and soften it in generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil.  You should not be frugal with this part since it’s what makes the dish so famous.  Soften the onion for 5 minutes.

This is my addition; half teaspoon of cumin seeds.

Add them to the onions along with the chopped garlic.

Carry on softening them for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile chop the tomatoes roughly, skin on.

Add them to the onions.

Add the allspice, salt and freshly ground pepper.

You want to be on the generous side with the salt because later when the aubergine flesh is added it will be seasoning that as well.

Take a good bunch of fresh parsley, separate a good few leaves from the bunch and set them aside.  The stalks and remainder of the leaves chop them finely.

Add them to the sauce.

While the sauce is bubbling away slowly prepare the aubergines.  Start by making a criss-cross pattern through its white interior but make sure you don’t go all the way through the aubergine.  You don’t want to pierce the skin.  It’s easier to use a small sharp knife.

Now start to cut along the edge of the aubergine leaving a good thick edge.

Again important not to pierce the skin of the aubergine.

The blade of the knife should really go sideways, the tip of it should be pointing towards the inner pulp of the aubergine.

As the knife goes around the edge the little cubes of aubergine start to fall off.

It’s easy to take the cubes out with your hands.

You want to end up removing only half of the white pulp, otherwise there won’t be enough support when the aubergines are fully cooked to hold the stuffing inside without collapsing.

Once all the aubergines have been prepared the tomato sauce should be thick.

It may not have any surplus liquid, it doesn’t matter as can be adjusted later.

Add the aubergines cubes.

Turn the heat up and mix in the aubergine well.

Add 2 tablespoons of water to help the sauce along.

Once the aubergines start cooking they will shrink a bit and release some of their water content into the sauce.

Once the sauce comes up to boil turn the heat down to a slow simmer.

Leave it to cook a good 5-7 minutes.  Please please don’t forget to taste the sauce for seasoning.

Add the remainder of the parsley leaves chopped up.

And a tablespoon of tomato ketchup.  Some of the recipes call for tomato puree but I prefer to use ketchup as it adds the right sweetness to balance as well as flavour.

I use Heinz ketchup because the cheaper brands tend to have maize (cornflour) or some other kind of starch to thicken it, so in the end I would be paying for cheap flour rather than tomatoes.  There are also other good quality tomato ketchup sauces.

Give everything a good stir and another minute of bubbling away.

The sauce should be thick and quite dry otherwise it won’t stay in the aubergine shells.  Take one quarter of the sauce.

With that quarter of sauce put in a baking dish big enough to take the aubergine halves in one layer.

Add one cup or mug of water (250ml) to the baking dish.

You’ve now created a base for the aubergines.

With the remainder of the sauce stuff each half of the aubergine.

Arrange the aubergines.

And bake for an hour.  Halfway through baking you’ll need to cover them with foil to stop them from burning on top.  Make a couple of holes in the foil to let some of the steam escape.

I forgot to cover mine because was too busy tweeting away to Jax 

I remembered my dish just in time!  I simply turned over the slightly charred bits.

And fortunately I hadn’t completely dried out the sauce.

Leave the aubergines to cool and serve them at room temperature.

 

My version of Imam Bayildi
Author: 
 
Pre-heat oven to 170˚C fan.
Ingredients
  • 3 small to medium size aubergines
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 very large or 2 medium size onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 6 medium size tomatoes, chopped roughly with skin on
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin seeds (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • handful of fresh parsley
  • ½ - ¾ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (adds warming note in background you could add pinch of cayenne or chilli)
  • 1 tablespoon Heinz tomato ketchup or equally good quality one.
Instructions
  1. Chop or thinly slice the onion and add it to a large frying pan with the olive oil and soften the onion for 5 minutes. Finely chop the garlic and add it to the onion along with the cumin seeds if using. Let them cook for one minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, parsley stalks chopped finely (reserve generous amount of the leaves for later), all spice, salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to the boil and then turn down heat to a slow bubble, simmering away.
  2. Prepare the aubergines as above by slicing them in half and cutting away half of the flesh into pieces. Add the aubergine cubes to the tomato sauce, and stir them in well, add 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil and then again turn heat down so sauce is bubbling slowly. Cook for 5-7 minutes. Check the seasoning. Add the parsley leaves and tomato ketchup and stir it well and cook another minute.
  3. The sauce should be nice and thick by now. Take a quarter of the sauce and put into a baking dish large enough to take the 6 slices of aubergine in one layer. To that sauce in the dish add one cup/mug (250ml) water to it to make a watery sauce as the base for the aubergines. With the remainder of the sauce divide between the 6 aubergine shells and then place them in the baking dish, they should fit snugly. Bake for an hour, after 30 minutes cover with foil and cut two holes in the foil to let some steam escape.