A Turkish dish that’s entered the kitchen’s (and bellies) of Greeks is Imam Baildi – the literal translation being “the imam fainted”. From the all the olive oil ingested in this olden dish. I’m calling this Imam as the canoes of eggplant filled with vegetables and topped with cheese still resemble this classic.
I’m avoiding the traditional step of frying the eggplants – instead baking them to soften then proceed with stuffing them with onions, tomatoes and peppers and once again placing them in the oven and finishing them with a slices of one of my favourite Greek cheeses, Metsovone. This cheese comes from the town of Metsovo located just 90 minutes west of Thessaloniki (with thanks to the new Nea Egnatia highway that takes you through mountains ) in the province of Epirus. Smoked Metsovone is a cow’s milk cheese with some sheep’s milk in the mix and just to take a whiff of these cheese is to fall in love with it. To eat it – you may swoon…faint! Get the connection?
I loved the pairing of Imam me (with) Metsovone as I loved smoked eggplant and one of my peeves is when someone makes Melitzanosalata without charring the outside to impart that smoky flavour. It’s a must for me and although I don’t blacken the eggplants here, the smoked Mestsovone marries well with eggplant and the slices of Mestsvone melt over the eggplant, offering it a blanket of smoky goodness that will seduce you – you will want more!
Sadly, Metsovone is not found in stores here in Toronto but a good smoked Gouda will work well here.
Imam me Mestsovone (Ιμαμ με Μετσοβονε)
6 medium-sized eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil
4-5 medium onions, sliced
1 red or green bell pepper, seeded & sliced
4 ripe tomatoes, passed through a box grater or 2 cups tomato puree
2 tsp. of dried Greek oregano
1 tsp. of fresh thyme
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
10 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
5-6 whole allspice berries (bouquet garni)
salt and pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil for finishing
slices of Smoked Mestvone cheese ( or smoked Gouda)
Pre-heated 375 F oven
- Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and cut a slit along each without piercing the bottoms. Add a good amount of salt in a large bowl and place the eggplants inside to soak for 5 minutes then drain and pat-dry.
- In the meantime, in a large skillet, add your olive oil over medium high heat and then add your onions, peppers and bouquet garni of allspice then reduce to medium and cover. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until softened. Season with salt and pepper and continue to simmer until thick and chunky. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Remove the allspice and add the garlic, oregano, thyme and chopped fresh parsley and stir-in. Adjust seasoning and reserve.
- In the meantime, pre-heat your oven and drizzle a little oil over each eggplant and lightly season with salt. Place on a baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes or until the flesh of the eggplant is fork-tender.
- Remove the eggplant from the oven and carefully open-up the eggplant (they should look like canoes) and spoon in the vegetable mixture evenly. Drizzle each eggplant with extra-virgin olive oil, cover again with aluminum foil and place back in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, uncover and place the smoked cheese on top of each eggplant. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese is just melted. Remove from the oven and serve hot.
- Serve with some good crusty bread pair with a Glnavos Aperios Chora Red from Epirus.
NOTE: My approach to preparing Imam here differs from my more classic Imam Baildi. There is also a third method, the more traditional one where the eggplants are fried for about 3-4 minutes to soften-up before being stuffed. There are many approaches to cooking and you may choose whichever method you like.
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