Imam Bayildi (“Swooning Imam”)

This is a lovely way to prepare Japanese eggplant — the long thin dark purple ones.

There is an old story of an Imam swooning over this most famous of eggplant dishes which is enjoyed from Greece to Iran. However, there seems to be disagreement whether he swooned because the dish was so delicious or because it was so rich and used so much expensive olive oil. In any case, it is very good and gets even better the second day. [From Tess Mallos' The Complete Middle East Cookbook]

6 or 8 long eggplants of medium size
1 large onion
1/2 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
pinch of sugar
1/4 cup water

Remove stems from eggplant, then peel off 1/2 inch stripes of skin lengthwise to give a striped effect. Cut a deep slit on one side of each eggplant lengthwise, stopping short of top and base. Place in a bowl of cold, well-salted water and leave for 30 minutes. Drain, squeeze out moisture and dry with paper towels.

Slice onions lengthwise then cut into slender wedges. In a heavy pan heat half the oil and fry onion gently until transparent. Add garlic, cook 1 minute, then combine in a bowl with chopped tomatoes, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Place remaining oil in pan and fry eggplants over high heat until lightly browned but still rather firm. Remove pan from heat and turn eggplants so that slit faces up.

Spoon vegetable mixture into slits, forcing in as much filling as possible. Spread remaining filling on top. Add lemon juice, sugar and water and cover pan tightly. Cook over gentle heat for 45 minutes until tender. Add more water only if necessary as eggplants release a lot of moisture.

Leave to cool to room temperature and serve as an appetizer or as a light meal with bread or chill and serve as a salad accompaniment.

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