Whole eggplant stuffed with caramelized onion, garlic, tomato, dill & basil, slowly simmered until it’s fork tender. I honestly feel like no further description is necessary. If that doesn’t sound good to you... then I guess I just don’t understand what would. Bonus with this dish: if you make too much of the filling, it also makes a delicious side dish or dip for chips!
‘How do I grow my own eggplant?’ you real over-achievers may be asking yourself. Well, I’ll describe our methods here with the disclaimer that we really haven’t dialed this in yet. Sure, this year the plants looked better than ever. In fact, they’re gorgeous! But they just aren’t producing many fruit. In fact, the four we cooked were the only ones we found in four beds worth of growing space! A little digging makes it pretty clear that our soil conditions are to blame. To be fair, we did not amend the soil before planting the eggplant, so that makes the most sense. At any rate, we start the seeds in late March or early April in the greenhouse and pot them up after about a month into bigger containers. Once the danger of outdoor frost has passed, we moved them to the field in beds of one single row with plants twelve inches apart. In our dream scenario, they’d be on landscape fabric or mulched, but this year we’ve weeded them both by hoe and hand. One thing to note is that flea beetles really enjoy this crop, so when they are first transplanted we leave them covered with frost cloth until they’re about a foot tall. At that point we uncover them since they’re finally big enough to withstand the damage a flea beetle can inflict. Aside from that, we use tobacco stakes and some string to keep the plants upright... though they haven’t really had enough fruit to worry about that. I hope all you home growers have much more success with your eggplants than we have this season so far!
Well, that leaves us back where we began, with the deliciousness that is Imam Bayildi. How’d we stumble upon this recipe? An awesome Netflix show called The Chef’s Line featured a Turkish recipe week with this dish as one of the challenges. If you haven’t seen it and you love cooking shows, this may be your new favorite! It’s an Australian show that has home cooks compete with professional chefs and their chefs line; apprentices, station chef, sous chef and head chef as the show progresses. It’s charming, inspiring and entertaining as hell. Plus, Mark Olive may be one of the best cooking show judges of all time, always checking in with the shows participants with the line “how do ya feel?” I could go on, but it’s best if I stop here and you just go check it out for yourself.
All that’s left is the recipe. So let’s get to it! Original recipe inspiration source is here.
2 medium or 4 small eggplants
1 large or 2 medium onions, sliced very thin
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ pounds (3 large or 6 medium) tomatoes chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
Salt (I used about 1 teaspoon in the onion and tomato mixture and just a sprinkle over the eggplants)
¼ cup olive oil (I had to substitute coconut for all but two tablespoons and still adored the results)
¼ cup water
2 ½ teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slit the eggplants down the middle, being careful not to cut through the skin. Place on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the outer skin begins to shrivel. Remove from the oven and transfer, cut side down, to a colander set in the sink. Allow to drain for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, lidded skillet and add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are very tender, 5 to 8 minutes, and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds to a minute, until fragrant. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl. Add the tomatoes, herbs, salt to taste and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil.
Turn the eggplants over and place in the pan, cut side up. Season with salt. Fill with the onion and tomato mixture. Mix together the remaining olive oil, the remaining sugar, the water and the lemon juice. Drizzle over and around the eggplants. Cover the pan and place over low heat. Cook gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, checking the pan for liquid and basting from time to time with the liquid in the pan, and adding water to the pan if it becomes too dry. By the end of cooking the eggplants should be practically flat and the liquid in the pan slightly caramelized. Spoon this juice over the eggplant. Allow to cool in the pan, and serve at room temperature (if you have the patience, which we did not).