Every year since their retirement, my parents have split their lives by half in two places. From October to April they live in Athens next door to me and from April to October in their summer home on the Greek island of Lemnos where dad comes from. There, they have a large expanse of land where dad tends to every vegetable plant imaginable, as well as raising a pig, a sheep and a bunch of chickens every year. When they return next door early October, their spacious car trunk is full to the brim with fresh, organic produce, lots of which wind up in my fridge and freezer to last me all winter.
This year has been no different. One of the first organic vegetables I chose to cook was a combination of dark purple and light green eggplants from my dad’s land. The way I enjoy them the most is in the Turkish dish Imam Baildi that has been adopted by the Greeks (that’s 400 years of slavery for you!) and is regarded as a Greek dish these days too. Loosely translated from Turkish, Imam Baildi means ‘The priest has fainted” which is no surprise, seeing that when traditionally prepared, this casserole, made with lashings of olive oil and rich spices, can be heavy on the stomach when consumed in large quantities. Yet, fear not as my version is light and healthy. I don’t fry the eggplants in preparation for the pot, but instead boil them in water.
So, read on and here’s a promise: cook this version and there won’t be any bearded old men in long black robes fainting on your kitchen table!
INGREDIENTS (serves 3-4)
3 large eggplants (or 4 medium ones)
1 large red onion (sliced finely)
1-2 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 beef tomato (skinned and chopped)
1/2 a pack (or tin) of tomato purée
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Extra virgin olive oil
A sprinkle of nutmeg or turmeric (optional)
Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, then chop each piece in two or three pieces depending on size. Throw them in a pot of boiling water and add a generous amount of salt. Boil for 5 minutes in high heat, uncovered. The salt will rid the eggplants from their bitter taste. Put them through a sieve, leave them aside for later.
In a large pot, put a generous amount of olive oil (what you would put in a tomato sauce for pasta – about 1/3 of a wine glass). Sauté the onion and the garlic lightly, add the tomato purée, the tomato chunks and about half a cup of water from a kettle. Add salt, pepper, sugar, and nutmeg or turmeric, if using. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the eggplants to the pot, placing them with the fleshy side down and pressing them gently into the sauce. Turn up the heat and add more water from the kettle as needed so that the eggplant pieces can cook comfortably. They should be immersed at least half way into the liquid. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Halfway through, turn over any large pieces gently with two forks.
Taste and add salt if needed. Add the chopped parsley. Let it simmer for another couple of minutes, but if there’s still a lot of liquid, leave the pot uncovered and turn up the heat. Boil till the sauce thickens. Best served with french fries, fresh bread and feta cheese.