This recipe is a childhood favourite of mine. It’s a traditional Bulgarian dish called Imam Bayildi. It is a vegetable eggplant-based stew. As the name suggests, its origin is Turkish – the truth is that all Balkan cuisines are heavily influenced by the old Ottoman cuisine, due to the region having been part of the Ottoman empire for centuries on end.
There’s a curious story – or a legend, if you will – behind this dish. Well, there are many versions of the story, but this is my favourite one:
Once upon a time an imam (the man leading prayer in the mosque) visited an old and poor Bulgarian woman at her house. The woman, anxious that such an important man was visiting her and worried that she had little for him to dine on, went to her garden and looked around – all she had were eggplants and tomatoes and herbs, so this was what she used to make her stew. Still, the imam loved the dish so much that he stuffed himself full with it and swooned (bayildi) in the end. So the closest translation of the name is “The Imam swooned” (because it was so delicious.)
So, here is the recipe itself. Have in mind that for the best result you will need a large earthen pot.
4-5 average eggplants – around 1,2kg
1,2 kg tomatoes
3 average onions
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 red pepper
10-12 cloves of garlic
2-3 average potatoes
150ml olive oil
2 tea spoons paprika
A few leaves of basil or parsley
0. Before we talk about the recipe itself, I want to give a short explanation/instruction about the preparation of the eggplants. The eggplants in their raw state are usually full of juice that is quite bitter. Cutting them and using them directly in a dish adds that bitterness to it, so beforehand we need to get rid of it – and we do so by using salt. Cut the eggplants, place them in a bowl, then salt them very well. Mix them with your hands then set them aside for at least half an hour. I strongly recommend doing this step before you start preparing all the other vegetables. After a while you’ll notice that the salt has drawn black, bitter juice out of the pieces, which is gathering at the bottom of the bowl. When you are ready to use the eggplants gently squeeze the pieces then wash off the salt. Have in mind that the flesh of the vegetable has already become quite salty and you need to take this into consideration when seasoning the dish!
1. Remove the stems of the eggplants and cut them into large cubes, then leave them in a large bowl and salt them well to draw out their bitter juice. Place the tomatoes in boiling water for a few seconds, then peel them and cut them into pieces. Peel and cut the potatoes. Peel and cut the onion into small pieces. Peel and slice the carrots. Remove the seeds of the peppers and cut them into pieces. Peel the garlic cloves. If they’re large, cut them in half.
2. Sautee the onion, peppers and carrots in a small pot with a 100ml of the olive oil. Add the paprika and wait for about 30 seconds before adding the tomatoes. Let everything them boil a bit on low heat until they are half done. Towards the end add the potatoes so they boil only for 2-3 minutes. Place the mixture in the earthen pot. Place the rest of the tomatoes, olive oil and the well-squeezed pieces of eggplant in the metal pot and boil them on low heat until the latter soften. Stir gently with a spoon (I recommend using a wooden one) so as not to damage the pieces of eggplant.
3. Pour the rest of the tomatoes and the eggplants in the earthen pot. If you find the mixture to be too thick, add around 150ml of water. Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper (have in mind that the eggplants themselves have already been very well-salted!) mix well with a spoon, place the lid on and put the pot in a cold oven. Turn it up to 190C and let it bake for about 40mins.
4. Cut the basil or parsley in small pieces and sprinkle it on the dish before serving. You can also add a piece of feta cheese. The Imam Bayildi can be served either hot or cool.
This recipe is a collaboration between Vkusen Svyat and myself.