I have just tried my hand at making Imam Bayildi, which translates as the Imam Swoons. A dish so divine when correctly made that it has a ‘certain reputation’.
I love Sally Butcher’s explanation of the name in her book Veggiestan and I wonder if I am alone in being sold on trying a recipe from the stories associated with it. I think that is one of the reasons I buy cookery books, reading about how the writer has come to choose their recipes, their knowledge about the ingredients they use, their memories and their passions is all part of the pleasure of the process. Often it is all I do and the dishes remain in my imagination, filed in a food palace somewhere in my mind.
One can search the internet for almost any recipe these days but there is something about having too much choice that can then put me off making the recipe in the end. A good cookery book (or a good blog for that matter) is far more than the recipes and photos contained between its covers.
I emailed Sally Butcher in Peckham where she has her shop which I hope to visit one day and asked her if I could write about her recipe, excerpted in The Guardian here, if you would like a taste of her writing and haven’t got the book (yet!) and she has kindly given me permission to babble on… so here we go….
The fresh tomatoes at the moment are not good and very expensive so I thought I would use canned ones. I suspect if you are doing this dish to look very pretty at a dinner party you would be better off using the best fresh tomatoes you can buy and chopping them up so that they show up better in the final dish, but I am not a food stylist and this was food for eating rather than taking photos of, though I have done my best to take some to share with you here.
I did the recipe more or less as written. I substituted canned tomatoes for the fresh ones and I didn’t have pekmez but after looking it up (as it was new to me) I decided to substitute pomegranate and date molasses which I had in the cupboard. I also added lime juice to the dish. I used my melon baller to scoop the insides out of the aubergine as you can see in the photos below. I also baked the final dish off in the oven as I was worried that I would forget it on the hob and it would catch on the bottom.
Adapted from Sally Butcher’s Veggiestan recipe for Imam Bayildi
- Five small to medium aubergines
- Two onions, I used a red one and half a huge Spanish one
- 6 cloves of garlic
- Can of good quality chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses and one of date molasses (my substitute for pekmez, not sure what it tastes like but I hoped this would do something similar)
- A little brown sugar to taste
- ½ a lime (juiced)
- Olive oil for the first cooking of the aubergines and for the final baking of the dish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Mint leaves from the garden to serve (the mint has survived the winter!)
I peeled strips off the side of the aubergines with a potato peeler. Cut them almost in half lengthwise but leaving the end with the stalk on and then I scooped out the middles with a melon baller.
I then rubbed sea salt into the middles and left them to sit for about an hour while I went out with the dogs.
I am not totally convinced by this salt and drain thing, sometimes I do it with aubergines, sometimes not. These aubergines were young and had a greenish tinge to them, older aubergines are not green like these when you peel them. I would like to make this with those nice viola aubergines but I would have to trek across the city to see if I could find them in St Marks Road or somewhere like that. Come to think of it they might have pekmez there too…
I chopped up the onion and garlic and the middles of the aubergines in the little whizzer attachment which is my favourite small chopping device. It came with the Bosch wand that we bought a couple of years ago.
I then cooked the hollowed out aubergines for about ten minutes in oil on top of the stove, till they got nice and soft and a bit brown. I had to keep turning them over and moving them around in the pan.
At the same time I started to cook off the chopped up alliums and aubergine centres in another pan and then once the whole aubergines were cooked, took them out, put them on paper to drain a bit and then swapped pans. At this point the sun came out again!
To the filling cooking gently away in the pan, I added a 400 g can of chopped tomatoes, a little brown sugar, and a tablespoonful of pomegranate and the same of date molasses. I then squeezed half a lime in, followed by sweet paprika and finally seasoned with salt and pepper. I tried to keep the oil to just what I needed as I knew the final part of the dish involves a big swoosh of oil.
Once the mixture was looking partially cooked I stuffed the centres of the aubergines with it and squashed them all into my big old pot, spread the rest of the sauce on top and around and poured yet more olive oil over the top and some water and put in the oven to bake gently for about an hour at 140 C (fan). They weren’t done enough when I looked so I took the lid off and turned the oven up to 150 C and then they looked cooked, the aubergine dark and glistening and the sauce had darkened in colour, the way tomatoes do when they are well cooked.
I am all in favour of dishes that you can make one day which taste better the next and can sit happily in the fridge for a couple of days at least – and I am so looking forward to swooning away this evening when we eat this.
In the meantime, what bread should I make to go with it? Any thoughts?
Update: I made the Dan Lepard semolina buns and some na’an dough but ran out of time so we went with the buns – Pretty good! I take useless photos at night in the kitchen though… but this gives you some idea – wild garlic on the top from the woods too!
Mmm- that looks really good! I love eggplant and everything you added just made the delicious mark rise higher! I would make a flat bread or Na’an to go with this- then you could scrape up all the sauce without any fuss! :D
I think na’an you are right – I should be doing other stuff and all I can think about is supper :D
We get great eggplant here, but I doubt I could get anything like pomegranate syrup. I’ll have to think of something else. It looks delicious!
something sweet and sour and fruity I think is the idea – thanks Debra :)
Other sources suggest the imam swooned when he learned how much expensive olive oil his wife used for the dish :) I like everything with egg plant (moussaka being my favorite).
ha! yes I saw that in Claudia Roden :) He should try buying it now :)
Another riff on this on Wikipedia says “Another folktale relates that an imam married the daughter of an olive oil merchant. Her dowry consisted of twelve jars of the finest olive oil, with which she prepared each evening eggplant cooked in that oil and with tomatoes and onions. On the thirteenth day, there was no eggplant dish at the table. When informed that there was no more olive oil, the imam fainted.”
Joanna I would think any flatbreads would be wonderful… or your Dan semolina buns…
was thinking maybe your na’an flatbreads, like Heidi suggested ? Better get to work :)
That is such a good dish! Your version is very pretty too. I sent my aunt a copy of Veggiestan after seeing it in the Guardian, and she cooks from it all the time!
Mine is a bit wild and messy but thank you! I would love to know what her favourite recipes from the book are. I am also very fond of the Enzo the Bride soup :)
I love the Imam Bayildi idea – my favourite recipe is from Cooking with Stones (available on Amazon) which also contains the world’s best carrot cake recipe. The filling in their version includes toasted almonds, raisins, wine, rice and cheese, so you don’t need any extra carbs.
Thanks for the book recommendation. I have taken the link out but indicated where it can be found. I imagine that you wouldn’t need extra carbs with all those goodies mixed in there :)
I have fond memories of making Iman Biyaldi back in Florida – upon pulling the lid from the pot, my first thought was, ‘My god, what will we ever do with all this olive oil?’ When we finished the dish, I remember thinking, ‘That was the best olive oil I’ve ever eaten!’ Just make sure your bread can soak up that golden essence.
I am sure everyone but me has made this dish before, I am hoping my bread will be ready in time, otherwise I might just have to eat it with a spoon :)
I haven’t made it, Joanna, and I’m looking forward to giving it a try!
It is very good and I enjoyed making the aubergines stripy :)
I love aubergines and wait all summer for mine to grow, I have pomegranate molasses too but not the other stuff, however it looks like a marvellous recipe.. c
Hi cecilia ! I have never tried growing them; lucky you having your own, what treasure – my capiscums were so pathetic last year ( and the year before!) The sibstitutes were what I had to hand after looking up what pekmez was – guesswork !
you should try with the aubergines, if you can be bothered, mine just grow with all kinds of neglect.. and fresh is SO much better! c
A new dish to me! And one I have all the ingredients for – thank you! :) xx
Another lucky person with home grown aubergines !
This looks like it would be full of flavour. I love eggplants. I haven’t cooked with some of those Middle Eastern ingredients before but would love to try them xx
It’s very squishy and tasty – there are lots of spices you can add to customize to your preferences, cumin, allspice, some people do with dill :)
Home made pita bread would be my choice. I love this book just to read as the stories are lovely. I love this dish and like you, I appreciate dishes that taste good the next day -I did a Prashad cook book curry tonight which was a bit of an effort after a hard day at work, but means I have lovely food for the next couple of days.
I was given a Nepalese curry book the other day and some Ghurka potato spices. I must get better at making curries ) I made the semolina buns in the end as the other dough wasn’t ready. We have lots more of the Biyaldi in the fridge to eat tonight too :)
This is something I have been meaning to make for ages but never got round to. I have all the ingredients so thank you for giving me a shove! I also love cook books that are more than just recipes (Jerusalem is my latest favourite) and Veggiestan is now on my wish list.
Jerusalem just won a Cook Book of the Year award – it is a great book I agree. Brian said he thought it took quite a long time to make but he said he thought it was good :)
Thanks for this interesting post. It’s one of my favourite recipes for aubergines (together with melitzanosalata). On the name of the recipe though I think it should be Imam (as in Moslem cleric) rather than Iman.
Thanks Peter ! I corrected the spelling right now. I have the same spelling thing with cardamom, always used to write it with an n.
Hi Joanna, I bought Vegistan too!
The story I remember about this dish was that it is called the Imam’s BEARD. The rationale is that the imam had never shaved so his beard is smooth and silky. (Probably not an association that appeals to everyone!)
That’s the first time I have heard that one :) B came home with a whole box of aubergines today from the greengrocer where they were on offer for £2.75 for 5 kilos. He has taken some to the neighbours as I was a little overwhelmed…
I must have been dreaming – of Baba Ganoush, another aubergine recipe. (which could come in handy if you have that many aubergines(!)) Clearly I’ve recalled a completely false etymology!
It happens to all of us :)
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That sounds really good. I have been looking for pomegranate molasses for ages, going to make a more concerted effort now!
Thankyou! I believe you can get pomegranate molasses in large Sainsburys and at Waitroses, as well as shops which specialize in Middle Eastern and Asian foods. In Bristol Sweet Mart in St Marks Road, Easton, in London Persepolis in Peckham and their website, Ottolenghi’s site probably carries it too – another one I can recommend is souschef co uk which is as an excellent source of foodie ingredients online – quite reasonable prices and free delivery over £30, Nice site with lots of added value in form of recipes and info
(edited this reply as I appear to have posted it twice, so put all the info in one comment and added a bit)
I just had a look at souschef- what an amazing site, thanks!