Thursday, 4 July 2013

Imam baldi (Ιμάμ μπαλντί)

A dish dating back to Ottoman times; don't forget to read the story about imam baldi before you learn to how to cook it.

Eggplant is one of those vegetables that, together with tomatos, have established themselves as firm summer favorites. Most recipe websites instruct you to prepare eggplant for cooking by slicing them and sprinkling salt over them to make them sweat, to remove their bitterness. In all my years of cooking the eggplant we grow in our Cretan garden, I have never really needed to do this. They are rarely bitter.

Eggplant has one inherent problem - to make them tasty, they need to be cooked in a lot of olive oil. If you don't like the idea of frying them (which is the quick way to cook eggplant in oil), you can roast them in the oven, using less oil, but that takes so long and uses so much heating energy that it works out too epensively. Even when I bake eggplant, I always fry them lightly first.

This version of imam baldi uses both frying and baking, giving a perfectly cooked eggplant that isn't too oily.

You need:
5-6 eggplant (both the long and the round versions work well here)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 large green bell pepper, finely sliced
1 large red pepper (preferably the long variety, known as Florinis in Greece), finely sliced
2 large tomatos, cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon of tomato puree
the leaves of 2 sprigs of mint, finely chopped
salt, pepper, oregano

Slice the eggplant lengthways and scoop out a small amount of flesh to make a cavity in each eggplant half. Put aside the flesh. Fry each half in very hot olive oil, turning to cook each side 3-4 minutes. Place each fried piece, cavity side up, in a medium baking tin.

Cut the eggplant flesh into small cubes. Ladle some of the olive oil you used to fry the eggplant (the amount you use is at your discretion) into a saucepan, and add all the ingredients excpet the eggplant halves. Cook on high heat for 10 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid the sauce sticking to the pot. Spoon the filling into the cavities. Don't worry if all the filling doesn't fit into the eggplant halves - it will reduce during the cooking process. Carefully pour a cup of water into the baking tin, without upsetting the filling in the eggplant. Place the baking tin into a moderate oven and cook for an hour.

A vegetarian instead of a vegan version of this dish can be made by adding some crumbled feta or mizithra cheese over the filling. I made a vegan version to serve with fried calamari and fried potatoes. I never feel guilty serving too many fried foods at once - we only use extra virgin olive oil in all our cooking.

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