The Indolent Homesteader: Eggplant

I was going to do a post on scientists and their depictions in romance novels, along with some thoughts on Ramon y Cajal’s thoughts on the ideal wife for a scientist, but I think I’ll wait on that until my thoughts are more fully formed.

Instead, I’m going to take the easy way out, and talk about eggplant.

I love eggplant. My favorite moment of summer is when the first eggplants are ready. If my eggplants were as productive as the tomatoes, we would have eggplant every day. Last year, we had fresh eggplant from the garden up until December. I loved it.

Did you know that in Turkey, they call eggplant the poor man’s meat? You know how I know this? My husband says it every single time we have eggplant. So I hear it quite often.
(Also heard very often around our house: “Did you know that Dr. Oz is Turkish?” and “It’s not an ottoman, it’s a footstool!”)

In the vegetable dishes that I think of as decadent, eggplant plays a starring role. That decadence comes from the fact that eggplant absorbs oil and when you slow cook it, the flesh turns to silk. Ratatouille is a great example of this.

Another great example, which I’ll be making tonight, is a dish known as Imam Bayildi, or the Imam Fainted. Whether he fainted because of how good it was, or how much olive oil went into it, the story doesn’t say. (Turkish cuisine can have some very evocative names: Ladies’ Navels and Ladies’ Thighs, for example.)

Imam Bayildi is deceptively simple: eggplant, onions, tomatoes, fresh herbs, and lots of olive oil, slow cooked for an hour or two. But the dish that results is much more than simple: somehow it’s become a summer afternoon on the Mediterranean that you can put on your plate.

So tonight, I’ll serve up a plate of this to my husband and I already know what he’ll say:
“You know, in Turkey, they call eggplant the poor man’s meat.”

9 responses to “The Indolent Homesteader: Eggplant

  1. Eggplant is my favourite vegetable! And I make “imam bayildi” a lot. The family hails from A Country Close To Turkey With a Similar Cuisine … as a matter of fact, we can see the Turkish coast from the ancestral home.

    When we used to visit, in the summer, that was the only vegetable available in the market. So we’d have imam, fried, baked, ratatouille (which we poetically call “tourlou tourlou,” which is probably Turkish, as your husband would say), and something we call “papoutsakia,” which I loved. Baked scooped out eggplant halves, filled with ground lamb sauteed in olive oil and herbs and onions; the halves are covered by a Bechamel sauce. Gosh, they’re good, but a trial to make. The neighbourhood ladies would leave dishes of food on the kitchen table for us to find after we return from our swim and snooze on the beach. Invariably, every single one was an eggplant dish … so we’d end up with five or six versions of imam. I didn’t mind at all, except when they’d ask us which one was the best. Oops.

    Bon appetit! What a fun post. 🙂

    • Turlu! That was my second choice tonight, but imam bayildi is a little easier. Are you familiar with the cookbook Mediterranean Harvest? There are about ten different variations of ratatouille in there, with turlu being one.

      It seems that the cuisine of that entire region is delicious variations on the same themes. Although, being a typical Turk, my husband would say that the Turkish versions are the “correct” ones. 🙂

      • That’s quite funny! My Istanbul-born priest would beg to differ … as would my peasant mother! 😉 I just think it’s all pretty delicious and healthy! The Italian, North African, Turkish neighbours, Arab friends, and south of France, well let’s just say there’s a lot of aubergine! I’d happily look for and use a recipe book, sounds great, but the mother and aunties haven’t read or written a recipe in their lives! They just tap their temples and shrug when I ask. 😉

      • That’s exactly how my mother-in-law stores her recipes–in her head!

  2. I make Imam Bayildi on a regular basis! The scene in The Easy Part where Millie and Parker go on their first date may or may not be set in my favorite Lebanese/Turkish restaurant.

    • Well, Turkish food is very romantic. 😉

      (We actually had Imam Bayildi at our wedding!)

      • The music was fabulous too, right!? 🙂

      • Oh, have you seen Crossing the Bridge? It’s a documentary by Fatih Akin about the music scene in Istanbul. (He’s also made some films about the Turkish immigrant community in Germany–they’re a little dark, though.)

      • Oh my goodness, how foggy the memory is … I think that documentary was carried by the CBC and I think I have seen and enjoyed it.

        One of my favourite non-fiction books used to be THE SEVENTH MAN by John Berger, about European migrant workers, especially Turks in Germany. There are things that date it … 1975 publication! … but the interesting structure (poetry, photography, etc.) and its ideas about how immigrants experience time are still interesting.

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