This amazing travel we have been able to experience while living abroad has given me a whole new appreciation for food. Every country (and sometimes city) has their own special meals and particular ways to prepare them. I find it fascinating. At first, I just liked to try a few restaurants and street food while visiting new places, and then I started buying exotic spices to take home in attempts to recreate what I had tasted. These days, I have big plans to take cooking classes everywhere I go to truly learn what’s behind the cuisine. I don’t love museums, but I do love learning about food in relation to culture, so why not spend my travel time wisely?
Istanbul was the place to start my new adventure, and I did so at Cooking Alaturka. I had debated taking a walking food tour, but Cooking Alaturka kindly adjusted the menu to (mostly) suit any and all dietary restrictions. We walked into the brightly colored restaurant and kitchen and were put to work. It is safe to say that it was the best meal I had all trip and it was even more satisfying knowing all the fresh ingredients and hard work that was put into each dish. A five course meal fit for queens.
We started out making a simple lentil soup. Red lentils, bulgur, and red pepper paste were the main stars in this soup and it was incredibly tasty.
Next up were zucchini cakes. These had a bit of feta cheese so I just had a little taste, but they were light and fluffy and mmgood.
Our third dish was the most surprisingly delicious, mainly because I’m not a huge eggplant fan. But this eggplant was stuffed with tomatoes, onions, and fresh herbs and simmered to perfection.
My favorite plate was the dolmas. I thought I didn’t like dolmas, but it turns out I only like really good dolmas. And these fall under the “really freakin’ good” category.
These aren’t stuffed with your normal rice and rolled in grape leaves. Oh no.
They are filled with lamb, beef, rice, and so many good seasonings that I can’t remember them all.
I will definitely make these again, but for a special occasion because they are time consuming as heck.
Lastly, we had some walnut stuffed figs poached in a clove simple syrup. This was the only thing that I felt meh about. I liked it, but I think I would have preferred just a dried fig stuffed with a walnut.
Today, I want to tell you how to make these tomato and onion stuffed eggplants. In Turkish, it is called Imam Bayildi, which literally translates to “the imam fainted with joy.” Imam is an Islamic leadership position, usually within a mosque. And I guess, when the imam sunk his teeth into this melty, flavor-bursting eggplant, he immediately fainted with joy, as did I.
You start by blanching tomatoes in order to easily peel off the skin. Chop them up.
Chops up some onions and herbs, add a ton of olive oil, and mix your stuffing together.
Now prepare your eggplant.
I think the slicing of extra skin is what made it so much better. The skin is overpowering so when you take some away, you get to taste the softer flavors of the eggplant (aka the part I like).
Stuff the eggplants and simmer in a tomato broth.
Serve them for dinner…as the main or a side, you choose! There is no doubt the eggplant will steal the show. Unless of course you decide to make dolmas too.
- 2 medium sized eggplants or 4 small ones
- 1-2 large onions, finely sliced
- 2 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- bunches of fresh parsley, dill, and mint, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon bell pepper paster (or use more tomato paste)
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 50 ml olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
- 1 pinch of sugar
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- fresh ground pepper to taste
- In a bowl, sprinkle the onions with the salt and knead/massage them forcefully with your hands, until they start to weep and soften. This facilitates the cooking process and ensures all onion pieces to separate. Add the tomato and bell pepper pastes, garlic, herbs, fresh ground pepper, sugar, and lemon juice. Mix well, then add the tomato cubes and taste and balance the flavors if necessary.
- Make sure to find eggplants that fit on a plate. Place a little knife on the spot where the stem starts above the leaves and cut all around, not cutting all the way through to the hard part inside. Twist (don't pull) the stem off so that only the hard core is left. Tear off the leaves and trim the remainders away to smoothen the top (from up to down is better, lest not to lose your stem). With a knife or vegetable peeler, hollow out the inside, making sure not to cut all the way to the wobbling. With the little knife, hollow out the inside, making sure not to cut all the way to the end of the eggplant. Same procedure for the small eggplants, but these you can open from the top (1 eggplant per person) and hollow out from there, like a little canoe.
- Pile the mixture high on top of each eggplant and press it in, making sure it's full, tight and heaped up, and that all the flesh is covered. Place them in a wide pan, side by side and pour the rest of the olive oil over the eggplants, Add water till liquid comes half-way the eggplants. Cover the pan and after bringing to a boil, cook gently for about 45 minutes to an hour until the onions are completely soft and the eggplants cooked all around. Occasionally baste with the cooking liquid. If some of the filling falls out while cooking, it's okay - you can reconstitute it later. Leave to cool in the pan, preferably covered and overnight. Put each eggplant on a plate. With a fork, bring all the stuffing back in and press down gently to give it a nice shine. Decorate with sprigs of dill.