The Priest Fainted
One of the oldest and most delightful Turkish eggplant dishes I know is called 'the priest fainted,' or 'imam bayıldı' (ee-MOM' buy-ul-DU'). It's made with baby eggplants stuffed with onions, garlic, tomatoes and cooked in olive oil.
The story behind this wonderful dish goes something like this. A long, long time ago, an imam (a Muslim priest) wanted to marry a young girl who was known for being a very fine cook.
As custom demanded, he went to the girl's father and insisted on a dowry of 12 large jugs filled with the very finest olive oil. The girl, upon returning from her wedding, set some eggplants aside to soak in the oil.
After a few days, the porous eggplants soaked up so much olive oil, her entire dowry vanished. Learning that the dowry was gone, the imam swooned and fell into a dead faint.
Another version of the story says that he swooned because the eggplant dish she prepared was so delicious!
The Sultan Liked It
Another wonderful main course featuring eggplant is called 'the sultan liked it,' or 'hünkar beğendi' (HOON-kyar' bay-en-DEE'), featuring melt-in-your-mouth beef, tomato and onion stew served on top of a hot eggplant mash thickened with milk, cheese and flour.
This is one of my favorite dishes for sit-down entertaining. It's easy to prepare beforehand and it's as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palette.