Fourteen years down the track, H&H are going as strong as ever, and the core group of friends that get together each year to commemorate the momentous day has got a system going for who brings what to the picnic. In previous years, I have taken salads, while H&H bring the sandwiches and O&T a fab selection of cheese and special homemade breads. Since the Young Man is the biggest of our offspring, I basically don't take kid preferences into consideration any more. I was a bit worried my selection might be a bit "adult", but it seems that the rest of the group counts on me bringing something a little less nursery in nature. Good to know!
This year I was planning on taking some quiches from Cynthia at Tastes Like Home's yummy-looking recipes, but alas, time was not on the side of baking up a storm. Instead, I got in on the bread scene as well, with my Argentinean chimchurri bread, to go with tzatziki and muhammara. A nice little selection of meze. But I couldn't quite let go of the veggie idea, and whipped up a batch of imam bayaldi, or Turkish stuffed eggplants, to go alongside.
A picnic offering (clockwise from L): Imam bayaldi, Argentinean chimchurri bread, tomato kasoundi chutney, muhammara, tzatziki
I have several recipes for this world-famous dish. One is from Haci Abdullah's, a fabulous restaurant that my dear Turkish friend U took me and some Japanese friends to when we stayed with her in Istanbul last summer. Established in 1888, Haci Abdullah's is an Istanbul institution (Orhan Pamuk even mentions it in his memoirs) , and one I would certainly have missed if not for dear U. Apart from the wonderful food (it really was superb; absolutely a must visit if you're in Istanbul), I was impressed that they provide free postcards and little booklets in several languages with some of their favourite recipes!
Another recipe, surprisingly, appears as "imam bayeldi" tucked in amongst all the Christian recipes in The Real Greek at Home, which I recently picked up for a song (despite strict orders to myself to reign in the cookbook purchasing!). Anyway, good to see that political differences are put aside when it comes to good food! I am all about that (g).
However, I went with this particular version, which I first made years back, when, not knowing where Konya was, wasn't even aware that I was making a Turkish dish! It is from Najmieh Batmanglij's delicious stroll along the old caravan routes: Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey, where the dish, whose name translates as "the Imam fainted" (whether from gourmet pleasure or from the cost of all that lovely olive oil that goes into its making), is called Konya eggplants with onion and garlic.
Now this is a little misleading to be sure. Since I have it on good authority from my good friend Se, a Konya native, that imam bayaldi does not contain mint. I quite like it here, but am more than happy to compare this recipe with others to see which is the best (g).
I actually visited Konya last summer, and although I didn't have any imam bayaldi there, I can tell you the food was delectable, and the people lovely. One kebabi even knocked half the price off the lunch I shouted dear Se's mother and nephew, who accompanied me on my second pilgrimage to the tomb of Persian poet Rumi (Mowlana in Persian and Mevlana in Turkish).
Konya eggplants with onion and garlic (Imam bayaldi)
6 eggplants, peeled (leave the stems intact)
1 cup olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1/2 cup fresh chopped mint
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
2 large tomatoes, peeled and sliced [S: probably diced is better]
1 Make a slit, lengthwise, in each eggplant without opening the ends. Soak the eggplants in a container of cold water with 2 tbsp course salt for 20 minutes. Drain, rinse, pat dry and set aside
2 In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat and slightly brown the eggplants on all sides.
3 Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. [S: My oven may be a bit low; next time I will do this at 200 degrees C]
4 Arrange the eggplants side by side on an oiled baking dish.
5 In the same skillet, heat 2 tbsp oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Stir-fry 5 minutes [S: I reckon you want to go for broke with the onions and get them caramelising at this stage. Maybe fry an extra 5-10 minutes]. Add the remaining ingredients for the filling and stir-fry for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
6 Open up the slits in the eggplants with your hands and stuff each eggplant with the onion mixture. Drizzle the remaining oil and 1/4 cup water over them. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 1 hour, until soft.