I first came across this dish flipping through Yasmin Khan’s “Ripe Figs.” In it, she has a recipe for Imam Bayildi––or “the imam fainted” for reasons few seem to know. It’s a classic Turkish mezze, not to mention simple to make. Essentially, you roast your eggplants and stuff them. Traditionally, you’d stuff them with something like tomatoes, onion, and garlic.
When I pointed this out to my wife, she reminded me that I’ve had something similar before––Greek papoutsaki.
Here’s a stuffed eggplant recipe that I’ve been making more regularly as of late. I got inspired by Yasmin Khan’s Imam Bayildi recipe in “Ripe Figs” and the Greek Papoutsakia from my wife’s side of the family. This is a very similar dish where you cut the eggplants lengthwise and scoop out the flesh so they look like little slippers before stuffing them with the cook’s choice. The main difference is that the Greek variety is typically topped with bechamel sauce like a pastitsio.
The Greeks and Turks have a history, to put it lightly, dating back to the Ottoman Empire. There was the Greek genocide during World War I and the ensuing population exchange. The exchange forced over a million Greeks in the new Republic of Turkey and approximately 400,000 Muslims in Greece to leave their homes and rendered them refugees. Even today, the two governments continue to butt heads.
All the more reason I find this dish interesting. Despite the history, this is a dish you’ll find in Greek and Turkish cuisine with some variations.
Papoutsaki often comes with ground meat, but I keep mine vegetarian. I also don’t scoop the flesh out and instead just mash it up with a fork after roasting it.
Stuffed Eggplant (Imam Bayildi / Papoutsaki)
- 2 eggplants
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 onion chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic chopped
- 2 large carrots chopped
- 1 yellow squash chopped
- 2 stalks of celery chopped
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
- 1/2 tsp black pepper or to taste
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 cup lentils
- 400 grams tomato sauce
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon or to taste
- 1 tsp oregano or to taste
- 1 tsp basil or to taste
- Pre-heat the oven to 190C or 375F.
- Cut two eggplants vertically and slice a few diagonal cuts across the flesh in both directions. Do not cut so deep that you go through the eggplant.
- Place the eggplants in a baking dish and cover with about one tablespoon of olive oil. Season with kosher salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika.
- Put the eggplants in the oven for about 30-40 minutes.
- Chop one onion and sauté over medium heat with olive oil for about seven minutes.
- Meanwhile, mince five cloves of garlic and chop your yellow squash and carrots. Add the garlic after the onions. Sauté for about seven minutes. Give the garlic a minute or two before adding the rest of your veggies and one cup of lentils. Season with kosher salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.
- Sauté everything for about seven minutes and then add two cups of vegetable stock. Bring it to boil, then lower to a simmer and cover for about 10 minutes. Check periodically to move things around and check on the lentils.
- Once the lentils are cooked and have absorbed the liquid, add in about 400 grams of tomato sauce. Season with cinnamon, basil, and oregano. Leave your mix simmering.
Stuffing the eggplants
- When your eggplants are ready, take them out of the oven. Smash the flesh with a fork or spoon. Fill your eggplants with your vegetable sauce. You should have a decent amount leftover (makes for a good lunch the next day!).
- Cover your baking dish with aluminum foil and return to the oven for about 35 minutes.
- Take the eggplants out after 35 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil for the final 10 minutes. At this point, you can add some grated cheese on top or the bechamel sauce if you've decided to go full papoutsaki.
- After 10 minutes, remove the eggplants and serve with more grated cheese, if you like, and a drizzle of balsamic creme.