There Is A Season: Good reason to be excited about eggplants

  • Tomatoes and onions and a couple of other ingredients make this eggplant dish delish. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MOLLY PARR

For the Recorder
Published: 8/12/2020 1:53:10 PM

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — eggplant season.
I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to eggplant. Seriously, be it fried or roasted, marinated or grilled, I am always excited to eat eggplant. This past winter, when I read about Imam Biyaldi, a Turkish dish of stuffed eggplant that’s baked in an olive oil bath, I decided to bide my time and wait until eggplants were in season to have optimal enjoyment.

Imam biyaldi translates to “the Imam fainted,” and it’s a little unclear whether it was the cost of the dish (olive oil was once a precious commodity) or just the look of it. Stuffed with onions, garlic and tomato, it really is as pretty as a picture.

I was so intrigued by this dish that I went down a rabbit hole filled with Mediterranean cookbooks and online recipes to see what else I could learn about it. While some use fresh parsley, a few use fresh basil, while others use oregano.

One recipe called for adding fresh peppers, but that seemed to be an outlier.

In an ideal world this time of year, you’d be preparing this dish with local eggplants and tomatoes. I actually used canned tomatoes because some creature my cat hasn’t caught yet keeps nibbling on the tomatoes in our garden. If you use canned tomatoes, out of preference or convenience, I should note that I used fire roasted diced tomatoes. They add a layer of flavor that regular canned tomatoes lack for me.

Although I didn’t salt my eggplants first, I definitely think the dish could benefit from it, if you have the time and inclination. I used three smaller globe eggplants which weighed in at two pounds. Japanese eggplants will also work; so will one or two large globe eggplants. You can either saute the eggplant, whole, in the olive oil, or slice it lengthwise to fry as I did. It was amazingly delicious. Onions play a key role in this dish, but please check their label to make sure they weren’t recalled this week.

While you may be tempted to eat this straight out of the oven, warm or room temperature is preferred. If you have the patience, wait a day to eat it; give the flavors a chance to get to know each other. You won’t regret it. We served ours with some labne I picked up at a Lebanese market in Springfield. Greek yogurt will also work.

Imam bayildi: Turkisheggplants stuffed with tomato and onion

3 small globe eggplants, 6 Japanese eggplants, or 1 to 2 large globe eggplants (about 2 pounds total weight)

½ cup olive oil, or as needed

3 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced

2 cups peeled seeded, and chopped tomatoes or one 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes

8 to 12 cloves garlic, finely minced or thinly sliced

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 cup hot water

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons sugar or honey

Warm one-quarter cup of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, in batches, add the eggplant and cook, turning them a few times and adding oil as needed to prevent scorching, until softened and tender, 5 to 8 minutes for Japanese eggplants and about 15 minutes for the globe eggplants. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplants to a baking dish, placing them side by side.

Add the onions to the oil remaining in the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the cinnamon, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley. Remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Cut a lengthwise slit in each eggplant, stopping 1 inch short of both the stem end and the root end and being careful not to cut all the way through. Pull the sides of the slit apart, forming a pocket. Stuff the eggplants with the onion mixture, dividing it evenly. Mix together the hot water, the remaining one-quarter cup olive oil, the lemon juice, and the sugar in a small bowl and then add to the dish. Cover the dish with foil.

Bake until the eggplants are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes for the Japanese eggplants and 30 to 45 minutes for the globe eggplants. Serve at room temperature.

Molly Parr lives in Florence with her husband and two young daughters. She’s been writing her food blog, Cheap Beets, since 2010. She was furloughed from Smith for the summer and is using the time to work on her first cookbook. Send questions or comments to molly.parr@gmail.com.




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