A Trip to the Middle East, Part I

I sometimes worry that I am too Italian. Despite my pale skin and my lack of gesticulatory manner, all too often I turn to my good old friend pasta. Whenever I feel stuck in such a European rut, I turn to this wonderful Veggiestan , and try something a little more exotic from amongst its pages of Middle Eastern vegetarian fayre.


As such, this week, my kitchen was awash with the heady scents of Imam Biyaldi, The Swooning Imam.


As Sally Butcher explains in the blurb on this recipe, the title of this dish is of unknown origin:

‘some say the Imam swooned from delight when Missus Imam served it to him. Others recount how he had married an olive oil heiress and thus had a liquid dowry: when he realised how much of the commodity went into her cooking, he fainted in horror. You may surmise that he passed out on opening his cholesterol test results’

What is known is that, hailing from Turkey, this is a recipe from a family of slow simmered, oil-saturated dishes collectively called zeytinagli (‘olive oil foods’). And it is true that the amount of oil in this dish may scare off the fair (or healthy) hearted. I myself live by the belief that olive oil is good for you (particularly your skin; I do not have olive tones, but I try for an olive oil glow), and also that, sometimes, the good (flavour) can outweigh the bad… If you cannot so convince yourself, all parts of this dish can in fact be baked, thus reducing the oil intake, but, inevitably, also reducing the flavour.

Note on the recipe: this dish will keep in the fridge for 2 – 3 days; apparently the flavours even improve after 24 hours, but, I must admit, my greed has never actually allowed me to wait that long…





Serves 2


2 aubergines, rinsed
Olive oil
4-6 garlic cloves, diced or sliced
2 red onions, sliced
3-4 tomatoes, sliced
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to season


Leaving the green hat on the aubergines intact, make 2 length-way cuts through them, creating 4 finger-like sections

With a sharp knife remove the seedy flesh of the vegetable, leaving only a centimetre of flesh attached to the skin, retaining the removed aubergine for later

Sprinkle the cavities of the aubergines with salt, and leave them to drain for 30 minutes

After this time, wipe away the salt and juices, before frying the aubergines in olive oil for around 5 – 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until somewhat softened

Remove the aubergines from the pan and set to one side

Add a bit more oil to the pan, then fry together the onion, garlic and the aubergine flesh removed earlier (now cubed)

After 5 minutes, add the tomatoes, paprika, sugar and lemon juice to the pan, stir well on season (I like to make mine particularly peppery)

Transfer the tomato mix into a bowl, and return the aubergines, the Imams, back into the frying pan; stuff the aubergines with the tomato mixture, and spread the remaining mixture around the pan

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, and around 100 ml of water

Return the pan to the heat; once bubbling, turn the heat down low, cover, and leave to cook for 45 minutes or so, until the Imams are tender

Allow to cool to room temperature, then serve with plenty of bread to mop up the sauce (the recipe for my chosen bread will follow in part II of this post…)



3 thoughts on “A Trip to the Middle East, Part I

    • Hello! Smells amazing doesn’t it?! But, more importantly, how did it taste? Did you like the recipe? I’d love to see any photos if you happened to take any!


  1. I wish I’d taken pictures but I kind of gobbled this up too quickly! I added a bit more lemon juice as my tomatoes were pretty sweet – it was seriously good (with bread from Persepolis, of course).

I would love to hear what you think!

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