May it Please the Palate: Will 'Imam Bayildi' make your guests faint?

I am writing this on the first day of Greek Orthodox Lent. Our Lent is a little different from the Catholics. This is all going back to the Great Schism of the 11th Century, when the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church due to irreconcilable differences. Among other things, both sides stubbornly refuse to reconcile when they celebrate Easter. The Greeks usually benefit from this by celebrating later, with the opportunity to buy half-off Easter candy. Greek Orthodox Lent traditionally involves fasting. Strictly, that means no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy until Easter. Then again, I once saw my priest eat a hot dog at a Tigers game on a Friday during Lent. So what is truly important is that one stays pure of heart. For example, eating hummus for the fourteenth meal in a row is meaningless, if I continue to think evil thoughts about opposing counsel. (Instead I will pray that they see the light to give me a bountiful settlement, plus a sincere apology.) Most Greeks make some varying effort to fast. That means a collection of vegetarian recipes come off the shelves, including "Imam Bayildi." This is actually a Turkish stuffed eggplant concoction that has been adopted throughout Greece. Its name means "The Imam (or priest) fainted," presumably because the dish was so delicious. Personally, I think he fainted for going without lamb for nearly two months. Seriously, this recipe is pretty good. But who's going to pass out over eggplant? Imam Bayildi--Adapted from "Taverna" by Joyce Goldstein This recipe gains its flavor from the caramelized onion and abundant garlic. Goldstein recommends preparing it a day or two in advance for the flavors to mellow. She also notes that the smaller, slender Asian variety eggplants are most tender, but you can also use small globe eggplants. 8 Asian eggplants or 4 small globe eggplants 1/2 cup olive oil 3 large onions, halved and thinly sliced 2 cups peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes (fresh or canned) 12 cloves garlic, finely minced salt and pepper A pinch of Aleppo or crushed red pepper (optional) 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley 1 cup hot water 1. Cut off and discard the stems from the eggplants. Using a sharp knife, peel the eggplants to form a striped pattern that resembles a barber pole. (I have no idea why. Perhaps the hair stylists in your crowd will be impressed.) 2. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the eggplants and sauté until tender and softened on all sides, at least 5-8 minutes for the Asian type and 15 minutes for globe. Using a slotted spatula or tongs, carefully transfer the eggplants to a baking dish, arranging them side by side. 3. Add the onions to the oil remaining in the pan and sauté over medium heat until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and garlic and continue to sauté for 2 minutes longer. Season with the salt, pepper, and optional Aleppo or red pepper. Stir in the parsley and set aside. 4. Preheat oven to 350.° 5. Cut a lengthwise slit about halfway through each eggplant and to within 1 inch of both ends. Carefully pull the slit open to make a pocket. Stuff each slit with an equal mixture of the tomato-onion mixture. Add the hot water to the pan, cover with aluminum foil and bake until the eggplants are very tender when pierced with a fork, 15-20 minutes for the Asian variety and 30-45 minutes for Globe. 6. Transfer the eggplants to a platter. Serve hot or at room temperature. Your guests may not faint, but with all that garlic, you may see a great schism develop among them. If you know what I mean. Kali sarokosti! (Have a good Lent!) Published: Thu, Mar 1, 2012