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Eggplant Salad Recipe: Now I Know Why the Imam Fainted

I’d heard of the famous dish “Imam Biyaldi” before, but never really knew what the hype was all about.  Being a Sicilian who also loves Turkish and other Mediterranean foods, I thought I had tasted just about every dish where peppers, eggplant and garlic were smothered in olive oil. For some reason, the one I’ve just tasted was different- in a totally delectable way.

“Imam biyaldi” is the Turkish phrase for “the imam fainted”. It is said but not known for sure that an imam, or Muslim spiritual leader, tasted this recipe and was so overcome my the intensity of flavors that he fainted! Well, I didn’t exactly faint but I do agree with some foodies who say this could be the original ratatouille, one of my favorite dishes in the world.

On a homespun tablecloth decorated by vased fresh flowers, Imam Biyaldi was served to us at our favorite ethnic market, the Mediterranean Oasis Mart in Naperville, IL. We’ve been shopping there for years and most recently enjoying generously portioned pita sandwiches stuffed with delights like lamb shish kabob, grilled chicken and grilled sirloin tips. Now, they’ve enticed us further by expanding their menu to include entrees, salads and desserts and even setting up tables in and out on the storefront for their customers to enjoy these foods.

Although our Imam Biyaldi was not served in eggplant shells (the traditional method) it was plated like a salad and served cold with pita bread to scoop.  This is not the store’s recipe below, but that of one of my favorite cookbook authors, Claudia Roden in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food (1972).

Ingredients

6 long medium-sized eggplants

3/4 pounds yellow onions

4 tablespoons olive oil plus 1/2 cup olive oil

2-3 large cloves garlic, crushed

bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

3/4 pounds tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

salt, to taste

1 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste

 juice of 1 lemon

Preparing the Eggplants

Prepare the eggplants for filling by cutting each in half lengthwise. They may be peeled or not, as you prefer. Scoop out the centers. Sprinkle the hollowed-out portion with salt and leave to drain in a colander for at least 1/2 hour. Then rinse with cold water and pat dry.

Preparing the Filling

Prepare the filling by slicing the onions thinly. Soften them gently in the 4 TB. olive oil, but do not let them brown. Add garlic and stir for a minute or two until aromatic. Remove from the heat and stir in parsley and tomatoes. Season to taste with salt, and mix well. 

Finishing

Stuff each of the eggplant’s hollowed-out portions with filling.

Arrange the eggplants side by side in a large pan. Pour the 1/2 cup oil over them and enough water to cover (about 1/2 cup) mixed with a little sugar, salt to taste, and the lemon juice.

Cover the pan and simmer gently until the eggplants are very soft, about 1 hour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Turn out onto a serving dish. Serve cold. (Serves 6)

So, if you’re ever in the suburbs of Chicago, you must visit the Mediterranean Oasis Mart. You’ll probably be welcomed with a glass of mint tea or mango juice, just like you’ve come to visit a relative. Shop around then sit down to enjoy one of the many delightful dishes on the menu. No matter what you pick, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  Oh, and tell Abu Shoosha we sent you…

Mediterranean Oasis Mart is located at 357 Bailey Road in Naperville, IL 60565. (630) 420-9507.

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are entirely based on the author’s own personal tastes, which may obviously be different for others who try the same product(s). The reviewer also declares that she has not received any monetary or non-monetary compensation from a restaurant or food product company for writing any review. 

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26 comments

  1. I totally could have written that first paragraph! LOL!
    When I discovered Imam Biyaldi 15 years ago or so, I totally fell in love with this dish, and make it often when we have company. It is a show stopper for sure with all that lovely olive oil!

  2. Jenn,
    I think you’re right- it’s the perfect dish to serve to guests! Yvonne

  3. Imam bayildi is also a perfect vegeterian dish.. Thank you so much for posting. Do you have turkish friend or something:)) Okay more about imam bayildi , it is a very elegant dish to serve to guests it’s even better if you make it with baby eggplants. Turkish people always have a cold dish made with olive oil along with the meat dishes.

    thanks again,

    inci

  4. Turkish dishes are becoming very important recently? I’m not sure why? Maybe because Anthony Boudain did a show? There are a couple of new popular cook books out now…the one called Turquoise is sensational. This post is a great way to remind everyone to do some of these great ratatouille style dishes. Thanks, s

  5. Inci- yes, I have a turkish friend but she never made it for me ;-) i guess that’ll be on the menu the next time i see her, right??

  6. S- I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain did a show about Turkey, but if he did I’m glad. I wish there were more travel/food shows and chefs going to a place of such rich cultural and culinary heritage, most of which is unknown or forgotten today.

    I’ve got Turquoise on order- cannot wait to read it. Just the cover is enticing enough!

  7. I love Imam bayıldı… I can tell you I almost fainted from cooking it with so much of my expensive olive oil and had to replenish the stock but I don’t care :-D

    I do agreed with you about Turquoise – husband & ex-wife team. The cover is beautiful. I’d read so much reviews about it. I will get it later for my b’day gift :-)

  8. Hi! Just found your site, so happy to find a halal blog! Hopefully I will pick up some tips so when I have my friends from school over I can cook for them without asking a million halal related questions :)

  9. seesue- thank you for visiting! I hope you’ll come back for more tips and information about halal recipes and eating. If you check my “About” page, there are links to sites that give more scholarly interpretations of halal guidelines. I’m actually updating it today, so it should have even more information by tomorrow, God willing!

  10. This sounds delicious and I am anxious to try it!

    However, I have some questions:

    “2. Arrange the eggplants side by side in a large pan. Pour the 1/2 cup oil over them and enough water to cover (about 1/2 cup) mixed with a little sugar, salt to taste, and the lemon juice.”

    really? 1/2 cup oil and a 1/2 cup of water is enough to “cover” 12 eggplant halves? When you say “cover” do you mean that the stuffed halves are to be totally submerged in liquid? Or, is this just a shallow bath with liquid coming partway up the sides of the open faced eggplant?

    “3. Cover the pan and simmer gently until the eggplants are very soft, about 1 hour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Turn out onto a serving dish. Serve cold. (Serves 6)”

    So is the finished result 12 distinct eggplant halves, still essentially intact, with filling in the cavity, and you server 2 halves per person? Or, do the eggplants essentially melt and it all becomes one big mash and you simply scoop the results onto plates?

    Sorry to be so naive, but i really want to try this and want to get it right! :-)

  11. No, no- not naive at all, it’s great to ask questions and I’m glad you did.

    2. The oil is drizzled on top and the water on the bottom, in the pan. The water will simply wet the bottoms of the eggplant so the skins steam instead of drying up and cracking. Yes, it is a shallow bath, essentially.

    3. The finished result is 12 eggplant halves, intact and served with the filling, sort of like a boat. The skin will not melt away and be mushy and unworkable, but they will be quite soft. You could serve 2 per person if the egpplants are small or long and medium like the recipe suggests. If, however, you use the larger and fatter ones, I think 12 eggplant halves would serve 12 guests easily, especially as a side dish at dinner or with a salad for lunch.

    Let us know how it works out for you.

    All the best.

  12. I love this story about how the iman fainted, I read it for the first time in Clifford Wright’s book Mediterranean feast. Its a text book for food history and recommended if you like that sort of thing. He was once married to a Palestinian so he had an inside look at this cuisine. nice blog and writing!

  13. I actually wrote a long comment and it dissappeared into the internet space :(

    I am so happy to see one of our signature dishes featured by a non-Turkish blog… I am a Turkish expat living in the US and it’s sad to see that Turkish food hasn’t found it’s place into the US culinary world… I guess most of our food is cooked from scratch, it usually involves vegetables and takes time to prepare which are all disadvantages for the busy-professionals who come home and have to prepare something in 30 minutes.

    Like Inci mentioned, do try to find the smaller, 3-4 inch eggplants. The very small ones won’t work since you cannot stuff them. Skip the huge ones that we see in the market, and they are filled with bitter seeds. (one reason why I think people in the US won’t like eggplants, and I cannot blame them). If you don’t have a mediterrenean market where you live, you can also try Chinese, Indian or Mexican markets. They usually carry the thin and long eggplants with minimal seeds. i usually cut those in half or 3/4 to make this dish…

    There is also an entree version of the “imam bayildi” that is stuffed with ground meat mixture which is called “karniyarik”… translated “split tummy”…

  14. Gokce- I really appreciate you taking the time as well as putting forth your idea for the karniyarik. Please tell more Turkish people about the site so they can submit some tasty recipes for us to share with the world-it’s truly an under-represented cuisine here in the U.S., but I know so many people who love it when they try it!

  15. I really like your blog, it is very interesting and fun to read!

  16. Thanks, Joumana. Your blog, http://www.tasteofbeirut.com is one I often refer to for wonderful Lebanese recipes. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Assalam 3laykom Yvonne,
    I’m really glad you posted this. My friend & I were talking about this recipe the other day and I’ve never tried it. Also, I’ve been debating on whether to buy Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food & seeing you recommend it really made the decision an easy one. JazakiAllah khier! Hope you’ve been doing great since we last talked. Keep up the wonderful blog.

  18. Believe it or not, it is possible to get this dish at one (and only one) restaurant in Krakow, Poland, of all places. They gave the name in Polish and I didn’t know whether it was ‘for real’. Now I know it was. And I must say, it was very tasty :) If you’re in town and want to try their version, go to Orient Ekspres on Stolarska (where all the consulates are) and look for the ‘Omdlaly Imam’. They have overnight accommodation there as well.

  19. I love Turkish food and basically all mediterranean cuisine. Eggplant is a favorite of mine too, especially with garlic, tomatoes, lemon, and fresh herbs. Love this dish!

  20. as salaamu alaikum…..I have tears in my eyes. I dont see any Halal African-American under your Ethnicity listings :( I dont see any African Halal period. Is there a good reason for this oversight?

  21. I love love love this dish – especially when my husband makes it – he was the one to introduce me to it. When i make it, I slice the eggplant into long slices; he opts for the classical incisions in the outer shell and stuffs those. I call my quicker version “The Imam Recovered” – but quicker version or not, its one of my favourite meals. Love your blog, Yvonne, and going to try out your version here. Today.
    Hugs,
    Atiyya

    • @Atiyya, thank you so much for visiting and for your lovely comments. I enjoyed reading your comment about your quicker version of this dish, as it made me laugh :-) Please stop back again soon!

  22. Try ”patlican musakka” egplant musakka.

  23. AA everyone,
    I just found this website and I really like it.This particular piece is very close to my heart because my Grandma used to make this dish and its one of the best dishes Ive kept from her.
    My family is from the island of Lesvos in Greece, that is within swimming distance from Turkey. I have it on good authority that us Greeks didnt know how to cook until the influence of the Ottoman empire. Before that we ate beans and fish. lol. The only thing that I wanted to add is that she had two versions, one was with the eggplant fried (my favorite) and the other one without. Both versions however had no sugar, no lemon and the skin was left on. It adds a bit of a bite.

  24. I will try this recipe next! I just returned from Turkey and absolutely fell in love with this dish. I want to try and replicate it! I just tried another recipe and it was dreadful… tasteless and way too much water (like soup)! I had to drain it off and then bake it for another 20 minutes to get it drier.

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