I absolutely LOVE Imam Bayeldi, or to some, Baylee Baghlee! One bite and you'll know why the "Imam fainted", it's literal translation. It is stuffed eggplant traditionally filled with ground lamb, seasonings, and pine nuts, then baked until the eggplant is silky, and the flavors marry into an incredible taste that would delight the most sophisticated palate.
This being Lent, however, we offer a meatless version that is sure to please. The recipe below was submitted by Ara Kassabian, and believe me, this is one of those anytime-of-the-year meals that you’ll want to make again and again. Thank you, Ara!
Since eggplant is a forbidden food in my home (food allergies!), I make a variation of this using zucchini, “Vegetable-Stuffed Zucchini Boats”, which will be posted separately, and it is a hit at our dinner table!
IMAM BAYELDI– submitted by Ara Kassabian
Choose a baking dish with 2-in high walls. You will need:
6-10 Japanese eggplants, as small as you can find them, enough to fill up the dish if arranged lying down side-by-side.
2 medium brown onions, sliced in thin crescents.
3-4 medium ripe tomatoes, or the equivalent in canned whole tomatoes, diced.
1-2 bell peppers, or a mixture of bell peppers and jalapenos, sliced or coarsely diced.
3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced very thin or minced.
1/2 a bunch of cilantro or parsley, chopped coarsely.
1/2 can tomato sauce.
(Optional) 1 tbsp sweet pepper paste.
Extra-virgin olive oil.
Salt and pepper.
Cover the bottom of the pan generously with the olive oil and tomato sauce. If you are using the sweet pepper paste, stir it in with the tomato sauce and oil.
Make a slit lengthwise on the top of each eggplant, leaving about an inch on each side. Prick the eggplants a few times with a fork.
In a pan, saute the eggplants in olive oil until slightly soft. This will allow you to open up the "pocket" that you made by slitting the eggplants. Remove from the pan. Sprinkle with salt the bottom of the pocket (to taste). Arrange in the baking dish side-by-side with the pocket facing up.
In the same pan, saute the onion, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro (or parsley) until the onions are soft but not brown. You will need to add the vegetables successively in the order listed. Salt and pepper to taste. You can also add a handful of pine nuts or chopped walnuts to the onion mixture. This increases the protein content and adds a crunchy texture.
Fill the pocket of each eggplant with the onion mixture.
Cover and bake at 325-350 F in a pre-heated oven for about 1/2 hour, then uncovered for about 1/2 hour. Remove and let it cool to room temperature.
Garnish with more chopped parsley or cilantro when serving.