Involtini

Ingredients:
3 eggplants, about 1 pound each, trimmed and cut lengthwise into slices 1/4 inch thick (about 16 slices total)
¾ cup olive oil, or as needed
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup pine nuts
cup raisins, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes until plump, then drained
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ teaspoons dried mint
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 large egg, beaten
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ½ cups drained canned crushed tomatoes
1 large ball fresh mozzarella in 1/4-inch slices

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place a ridged cast-iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brush eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil and cook, turning, until soft and (if using a ridged pan) crisscrossed with grid marks. Set aside and allow to cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine feta, pine nuts, raisins, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, bread crumbs, garlic, lemon zest, mint and parsley. Mix in egg, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Spread eggplant slices on a surface, and divide stuffing evenly among them, placing 1 to 2 tablespoons at one end of each slice. Roll up slices tightly to secure filling, and place in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or other shallow baking pan in which rolls fit snugly in a single layer).
4. Pour crushed tomatoes on top of eggplant rolls. Arrange mozzarella slices in a line lengthwise down center of pan. Drizzle olive oil evenly over pan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Bake until cheese has melted and eggplant is bubbling and fragrant, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to stand 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

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Imam Bayildi

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium or 4 small eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, sliced very thin
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ pounds (3 large or 6 medium) tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil (optional)
  •  Salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)

PREPARATION

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment and brush with olive oil. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Tip

  • Advance preparation: You can roast the eggplant through Step 1 and make the filling through Step 2 several hours before assembling and cooking the imam bayildi. Once cooked, the finished dish can sit for several hours.

Imam Bayildi

Recipe

One of the most celebrated of all Turkish recipes. A light, succulent and truly scrumptious dish – part of Turkey’s wide array of ‘zeytin yağlı’ (with olive oil) recipes. It is perfect for a snack, as part of a table of mezes (small plates or starters), or as an accompaniment to a full dinner.

Not only does it taste yummy, but it has a rich story to savour. Imam Bayildi literally means “The imam fainted”. It is said that an imam (Muslim priest) swooned with pleasure on tasting the dish. This is the story you’ll hear repeated right across Turkey. There is however, a rather less charitable account that has the imam fainting at the great cost of the olive oil used to make it. Here’s how the story goes:

“A long time ago there lived a Turkish imam, well known for his appetite and love of good food. One day he surprised his friends by announcing his engagement to the beautiful young daughter of a rich olive oil merchant. At this stage, the imam’s friends were not aware of her abilities as a cook. Part of her dowry was a consignment of the very finest olive oil. The wealthy merchant gave the groom twelve great jars of the prized oil, each one as big as a man.

Following the wedding, the young daughter quickly revealed her talents as a Turkish cook and every day prepared a special dish for her new food-loving husband. Stuffed aubergine in olive oil was his absolute favorite, and so he asked his wife to make it for him every night as the centrepiece of his dinner. Being a good wife, she did as she was told, and made the delicious dish for twelve days in a row. On the thirteenth day, however, when the imam sat down to dinner, his favourite aubergine dish was starkly absent. The imam demanded to know the reason for its disappearance. The bride replied, “My dear husband, I cannot make your favourite dish anymore, for we have no more olive oil. You will have to buy some more.” The lmam was so shocked by the news that he fainted. And so ever since that day, his favorite dish has become known as ‘Imam Bayildi’,(the imam fainted).”

Preparation:

The dish is simple to prepare, but it does take a little while to cook (about 1¼ hours) and cool (it is supposed to be eaten at room temperature), so make sure you allow enough time. And check that you have enough olive oil!

Ingredients (serves 4-8):
8 aubergines (eggplants)
3 medium sized onions
½ cup (4 fl oz, 125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 medium sized tomatoes, peeled
¼ cup (1/3 oz, 10g) chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
A good squeeze of lemon juice
A pinch of sugar
½ cup (4 fl oz, 125ml) water

Directions:
Wash the aubergines well and remove the stems. Peel the skin lengthwise in ½ inch strips, to give a nice striped effect. This will help the aubergine absorb the flavours while cooking, even if the stripes disappear to some extent when cooked.

To salt or not to salt:

There is a debate about whether it’s necessary to salt aubergines or not in order to drain out any bitterness. Modern varieties are apparently less bitter than they used to be, and if you choose small and very fresh ones there is probably no need to bother salting them.  If you are of the salting persuasion, then at this stage cover your aubergines with salt and allow them to rest on kitchen towel for about half an hour. Afterwards simply wipe away the salt.

Cut the aubergines in half (lengthwise), and cut a slit lengthwise in the fleshy side of each of the halves, stopping a little short of the ends. Cut onions in half (from tip to tip) and then chop into slender wedges.

Heat half of the oil in a heavy based saucepan or frying pan with a lid, and add the onions. Cook gently until they are transparent. Add the chopped garlic and cook for about a minute. Pour this mixture into a large bowl, and stir in the chopped tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper, as well as the lemon juice, sugar and water, to make the mixture used for stuffing the aubergines.

Heat the remaining oil in the pan until it starts to smoke, then add the aubergines and cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes, until they are lightly browned all over, but still nice and firm. Then remove from the heat.

Arrange the aubergines in the pan with fleshy sides upwards, and spoon the filling mixture into the slits. Try to stuff in as much as possible, and spread any remaining filling on top. Put a lid on the pan and cook over a gentle heat until tender (approx 45 minutes). Check on it occasionally, adding more water to the pan only if it is getting dry (aubergines do release a great deal of water).

Alternatively, you can arrange the stuffed aubergines in a covered oven proof dish, and cook for about 45 minutes at 180 degrees.

Remove from the heat, and let the stuffed aubergines cool to room temperature. Serve as an appetizer/meze, or as a light meal with fresh bread and/or yoghurt. It can also be refrigerated and served refreshingly chilled. Enjoy!

Saksuka

Ingredients (serves 4):
2 eggplants (long type)
2-3 peppers, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and cubed
2 medium size potatoes (optional)
1 courgette/zucchini (optional)
Tomato purée/paste
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed or finely sliced
Olive oil

Directions:
Peel alternate strips off the aubergines (eggplants) lengthwise to create a stripey pattern. Chop into chunky cubes, sprinkle generously with salt, and leave to soak in a bowl of water for about half an hour. You can make şakşuka with or without potatoes and courgettes. Without offers a much purer appearance and set of flavours. With provides additional colours, textures, and tastes. Why not try it both ways. If you decide you would like to include them, then chop them into cubes like the aubergine and fry them up until golden. The potatoes need a bit longer than the other vegetables so give them a little extra time.

To soak or not to soak: A debate continues to rage as to whether salting and soaking aubergines really does help to remove any bitterness, but the main orthodoxy is that is better to do than not.

Rinse the aubergine chunks, pat dry, and then fry in a light olive oil until golden brown. Stir in the finely chopped peppers and the tomatoes and cook over a gentle heat. When these start to break down and disintegrate, add the tomato puree/paste and garlic, and continue to simmer for a few minutes. If the tomatoes aren’t especially juicy then feel free to supplement with a little water. You should be aiming for a really moist and juicy consistency.

Leave to cool. Serve chilled. It’s superb eaten with hunks of fresh bread or with some cool fresh yoghurt on the side.

Kashk-e-Bademjoon

For those adventurous enough to try this for the first time, it is much like Baba Ghanoush, but the flavors are very different.  It’s also a bit heavier than Baba Ghanoush, but also one of my faves.

INGREDIENTS:
3 medium eggplants
2 egg whites, beaten
1/4 cup oil
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp dried mint flakes
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

garnish:
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp dried mint, crumbled
1/2 cup liquid whey (kashk), diluted in 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water

DIRECTIONS:

1. Peel eggplants and cut into four lengthwise slices. Place in a colander and soak in water and 2 tbsp salt to remove bitterness. Let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse with cold water and pat dry.
2. Brush the eggplant with egg white on all sides to use less oil in the frying process.
3. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a skillet and brown eggplant slices on all sides over medium heat. Drain over a paper towel.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Brown the onions and garlic in 2 tbsp oil, add turmeric and mint flakes and set aside.
6. Alternate layers of eggplant with layers of onion and garlic mixture in a long ovenproof dish. Pour 1.2 cup water over the layers, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until tender.
7. For the garnish, just before serving, lightly brown the garlic in oil. Remove skillet from heat and add mint, whey, walnuts, and saffron water. Pour over the eggplant, cover, and bake for another 15 minutes in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven.
8. When the eggplant is done, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and keep it warm until serving. Serve from the baking dish with bread, onions, chopped herbs, and (my personal favorite) grapes. Delicious!

Shakshouky (Lebanese Eggplant Salad)

INGREDIENTS:

1 eggplant
a bunch of scallions or 1 leek
2 garlic cloves
1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
5 tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tblsp. pomegranate paste/juice
a pack of tortillas

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Cut slits in the eggplant.  Cover it with aluminum foil and place it in the oven at 400 degrees F for an hour.
3.  Boil enough water to cover your tomatoes.  Toss the tomatoes in the boiled water until the skin begins to crack (approx. 1 min).  Remove tomatoes and continue peeling their skin.
4.  Chop tomatoes.  Slice scallions or leek (white and green portions).  Chop or juice garlic cloves.  Juice lemon.  Place in a salad bowl.
5.  Pour pomegranate juice and a little bit of olive oil into the bowl.
6.  When the eggplant is ready, remove from the oven.  Skin the eggplant.  Remove the stem and some of the seeds.
7.  Chop the eggplant and place it in the salad bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix all ingredients.
8.  Let the salad chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
9.  When ready to serve, add remaining olive oil and mix again.
10.  Tastes very good with toasted tortilla.  Just dip the tortilla in the salad and enjoy!