Ratatouille, Byaldi, Imam Bayıldı

Imam Bayıldı

On Friday the Pixar movie Ratatouille starts in the USA (watch the trailer, and a preview – unfortunately, we in Germany have to wait till October for the movie!) and you already know that, as a foodie, you have to go see this animation film about a talented rat who wants to become a chef in a Paris kitchen. The “final dish, the one on which the entire plot hangs … is the movie’s namesake, and needs to be so special it will impress the restaurant critic”, this french dish called byaldi, a version of ratatouille, has actually its origin in a turkish dish: Imam bayıldı, “the imam fainted”.

As I am sure you will come out of that movie wanting to recreate the dish, I would like to suggest you make the original, which is very easy to prepare with scrumptious and mouth-watering results. It is really easy, its secrets are slow cooking (active cooking time is not that long though), a lot of good extra virgin olive oil and some sugar. Such “zeytinyaǧlı” (literally: “with olive oil”) dishes can be cooked with any vegetables (classics are green beans with tomatoes and artichoke bottoms with fava beans) and are traditionally eaten either at the end of a succession of meze or right after the main dish. As they are always eaten cold, or at least at room temperature, they would also make for a perfect summer main dish if you like. Although I am a carnivore, note that this dish, like all the other “zeytinyaǧlı”, is vegan. And remember: They always taste best on the second day!

Drink a crisp dry white wine without oak with this dish. We drank a Chablis 2004, which is a Chardonnay from France, with yeasty aromas.

Oh, why the imam fainted? He came home and saw the dish his wife had prepared and as he realized how much of the precious olive oil went in it, he fainted!

Imam Bayıldı
classic Turkish recipe, as learned in my mom’s kitchen
serves 6

prep: 20 mins
cook: ca. 1 1/2 hours unattended, 15 mins active

eggplants, 6 long thin ones (ca. 1 kg)
tomatoes, 6 (ca. 600g)
green peppers, 3 small ones (ca. 200g – you can use bell peppers or long thin but not hot ones, as well)
onions, 6 (ca. 450g)
garlic, 3-9 cloves (to taste, the more the better!)
flat leaf parsley, a small bunch
olive oil, 1/2 – 1 cup (extra virgin)
sugar, 1 tbsp, heaped
salt

(Click on the small pictures below to read detailed explanations of each step)

Trim the “heads” of the eggplants. Do not cut them completely off. Peel the eggplants in stripes. Put the eggplants in salted water. Blanch and peel the tomatoes, cut into cubes. Dice the green peppers. Peel and cut into half the onions, slice thinly. Peel and slice thinly the garlic cloves as well. Mince the parsley very fine.

Take the eggplants from the salted bath, squeeze them lightly and pat dry. Cover the bottom of a heavy pan with olive oil. Start with half a cup, you could get away with it, but more could be necessary. When the oil is hot, brown the whole eggplants from all sides till they have softened a bit, but not thoroughly cooked, ca. 8 mins. Do this in batches, do not overcrowd your pan. Lay the fried eggplants in a single layer in a wide pan or pot with a lid.

In the remaining olive oil in the pan, start roasting the onions. Turn the heat down to medium, you want to slowly brown the onions. Sprinkle the sugar on the onions and let them caramelize and get soft. Add the garlic, roast for a couple minutes, then add the green peppers and tomatoes, sprinkle salt over it. Let cook over low heat, with the lid closed, until the vegetables have gone soft and juicy, around 20 mins. Add the minced parsley at the very end.

Slit open a pocket in each eggplant. Spoon the cooked vegetable mix into and over the eggplants, there will be more than enough filling, cover the eggplants and the space between them. If the filling is not juicy, you may want to add half a cup of warm water into the pan. Cover and let slowly cook for at least an hour over very low heat, till the eggplants are really soft and cooked through. Alternatively, you may put the pan with the filled eggplants in a warm (but not very hot) oven for an hour.

Imam Bayıldı Ingredients Trim the Eggplant Peel the Eggplants in Stripes Salt Bath Blanch the Tomatoes Fry the Eggplants Lay out the Eggplants Roast the Onions Add the Peppers and Tomatoes Make Pockets Fill the Mixture Final Product