Imam Bayildi poured onto a plate

How to make an imam bayildi

By BBC Maestro

A classic dish, rooted in history, the imam bayildi has been satisfying the taste palettes of people across the world for decades. Whether you’ve never tried a delicious imam bayildi before or you have indulged in one of its various adaptations, learn how to make a contemporary imam bayildi laced in flavour, with the help of chef Marco Pierre White.

What is an imam bayildi?

Originating in Turkey, and cooked widely in the former Ottoman regions, imam bayildi is a dish made mainly from onions, garlic, aubergines, and tomatoes. It is “one of life’s great dishes,” says chef Marco Pierre White in his BBC Maestro cooking course

Traditionally, aubergines are stuffed with these ingredients and served warm or at room temperature. Some enjoy it accompanied with rice and yoghurt, while others prefer it on its own.

The name, which translates to ‘the imam fainted’, is said to derive from a tale of a Turkish imam who was captivated by the flavour of the dish when his wife served it to him. Others believe a more humourful account – which is that the imam fainted upon hearing how much oil was in the dish or discovering the total cost of the ingredients. 

No matter which plot line you prefer, the dish itself has been widely adapted today across Middle Eastern cuisines and has even found its way into French cuisine too. Some variations of imam bayildi incorporate ground meat (becoming a dish named ‘karniyarik’), whilst others still use the same simple ingredients, but alter the recipe’s formula slightly, such as Marco Pierre White’s version. As he aptly puts it, his is a “French twist on a middle eastern classic”.

Chopped aubergines

How to serve imam bayildi 

Many eat a classic imam bayildi on its own, but there are many different ways to serve this mouth-watering dish. You may want to serve it as an accompaniment to another dish – such as meats, fish or rice dishes. For example, Marco Pierre White uses his as a sauce with meats, serving it underneath a rump of lamb in his BBC Maestro cooking course, Delicious Food Cooked Simply. In many cuisines, you can find it served in a meze style meal, served alongside fish or rice. It can be eaten as a main vegetarian or vegan course too.

How the final dish will be eaten should remain in your mind throughout the cooking process. If you’re planning to serve it as a main dish, you may need to adjust your quantities according to how hungry your guests are.

Imam Bayildi sauce

Imam bayildi recipe

This imam bayildi recipe is one of Marco’s favourites recipes. “It’s got body, it’s got texture, it’s fresh and it’s light,” he explains. 

Serves: 2 

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil, for deep-fat frying 
  • 1 onion, finely diced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced 
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tomatoes, deseeded & diced 
  • 250ml of passata  
  • A small handful of currants 
  • 2 aubergines, trimmed & coarsely diced (about 1.5 cm) 
  • 1 lemon, juice only 
  1. Preheat a deep pan of oil to 180°C/350°F. 
  2. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in the base of a heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and fry until soft, stirring frequently to avoid burning or sticking to the base.
  3. Stir in the cumin and continue to fry until you can smell the spices’ aromas.  Add in the currants and tomatoes and stir. “Cook until they release their water and break down,” says Marco Pierre White. Pour in the tomato passata and let it come to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. 
  4. While the sauce is reducing, toss the aubergine pieces in lemon juice and then deep fry them until lightly browned – don’t overcrowd the pan, and fry in batches if necessary. You may notice a few moments after the aubergines land in the oil, the sound of the frying is quieter. “That softening, is for the simple reason that the water content within the aubergine has been released, and now the aubergine is cooking,” says Marco Pierre White in his BBC Maestro cooking course.
  5. Drain them in a colander. 
  6. Reduce the imam bayildi sauce until thick, and then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the deep-fried aubergine. You will really be able to smell the sweet aroma of the dish here. “The scent of cumin is going to become strong here. It’s going to infuse the tomatoes,” says Marco Pierre White.
  7. You want the sauce to cool down before serving, so place it on a large plate or dish and spread out using your spoon or a spatula. To speed cooling, you can place a spoon under the dish, which allows air to get in underneath it. 
  8. Serve immediately how you wish.
Imam Bayildi served on a plate

Perhaps you’re serving your imam bayildi on its own or it’s resting underneath delicious sumac crusted white fish. Whichever way you choose to enjoy it, take delight in its light and aromatic flavour. Some recipes choose to include other warming spices such as cinnamon, so it’s well worth experimenting with flavours from other cuisines too. If you need a little inspiration, you may find it in our other online cooking courses

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