For as long as I can remember I have loved food, specifically good food. My mother recalls how as a baby I never finished one bottle of milk and was only ever able to drink a quarter of the bottle (I think most people can agree a bottle of milk is not the most appetizing thing). When I grew older I was often found decorating my plate with slices of tomatoes, herbs and ground black pepper before I would eat it. In the sandpit castles, moats and tunnels did not spark an interests; rather cakes, biscuits and cupcakes were my preferred inspiration in sand-sculpting. Thus my passion, love and fussy-food-fetish began before I even knew what wonderful food awaited me.
After school I went to London for two years with the aspiration of becoming a star in their local soapie, Eastenders. When that did not pan out, I found a job in a restaurant as a waitress. It was a wonderful restaurant where the menu change daily and the owner and chefs constantly entertained me with their knowledge and tales of food. When I was not busy I would help the kitchen porter gut and scale fish – it was always such a treat when the fishmonger’s van pulled up and I got to go and have a look at all the remarkable fish.
It is The Bermondsey Kitchen to which I owe this recipe and my constant desire to create food. Also, to three remarkable women: Dela Smith (the owner, for allowing me to cook), Ruth (the Head Chef, and the person who saw talent in me) and lastly, to dear Lisa (who took over from Ruth as Head Chef, and who I owe most of my cooking knowledge to).
The restaurant’s menu change daily which not only insured fresh produce, but a chance for me to learn a different recipe a day. Coming from South Africa, most of the dishes on their menu comprised of things I had never heard of or tasted. My eyes were opened to a world of food and I have since then been obsessed with food, glorious food! I learnt wonderfully inspiring dishes working at The Bermondsey Kitchen and Imam Bayildi is one of them.
Imam Bayildi, is a Turkish dish made of re-stuffed aubergines. The name translated means: “The Imam Fainted” and an Imam is a priest. The tale of the dish tells the story of a priest who was presented with a dish made out aubergines stuffed with a tomato sauce. On eating the dish, the priest fainted due to the remarkable falvour – it was so good he could not resist swooning. Recently, I have heard another version of the story, this one suggests that the priest fainted on hearing the amount of olive oil that was used in the dish – olive oil being very expensive and the priest being very modest could not contain himself after eating such an extravagant dish and fainted. The latter version may be more believable, but far less romantic – I like to believe in the former, I love the idea of someone fainting because a meal tasted that wonderful.
tablespoon of olive oil, plus extra for brushing the aubergines
1 tablespoon of butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
stalks of a bunch of coriander, chopped
1 read chili, seeds removed and chopped finely
1 teaspoon of dry mint
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, ground
1 teaspoon of caraway seeds, ground
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 cup of water
½ teaspoon of sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Cut the aubergines lenghtwise in half. Brush each half with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 20-30 minutes or until the aubergines are tender.
In a heavy-based saucepan, sweat the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil and butter. Allow to sweat for 5 minutes and then add the chopped coriander stalks. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and then add the, chilli, dried mint, cumin, coriander and caraway seeds. Allow spices to cook for about a minute then add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes before adding the chopped tomatoes, a cup of water and the teaspoon of sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes. Taste mixture and add salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to simmer gently fr 45-50 minutes or until the colour of the mixture has changed from red to orange – an orange layer of oil should be visible on the top of the mixture, this indicates that the raw tomato flavour from the tin has been properly cooked out.
Remove the aubergine halves when cooked and allow to cool. Scrape out the inside of the aubergines, chop if necessary . Do not discard the empty aubergines as you will be re-filling them. Add the aubergine filling and chopped coriander to the tomato sauce. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed.
Reduce the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Fill the aubergines halves with the tomato mixture. Place the filled aubergines on a try and bake in the oven for 10-15minutes.
Serve with flatbread and tzatziki.
Flatbread (this recipe was taken from the Moro East
makes about four thin breads
100ml warm water
¼ teaspoon of dried yeast
130g flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Stir the yeast into the water. Put the flour into a bowl along with the salt. Slowly add the water a bit at a time while working out the lumps with your fingers. When all the flour and water have been incorporated, beat in the olive oil (with your finger tips). Knead for 5 minutes. Let the dough sit for 20 minutes. Give it another quick beat to make it more elastic.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll the dough into four thin circles. On a medium heat, dry fry the flatbreads. Turn the breads when they begin to bubble. Cook until the underside has brown spots.
- Note: the dough can be kept in the fridge until you are ready to use it.