One thing is for certain: true cultural cooking cannot be purchased pre-made from our grocer’s freezer, primarily because of the one similarity that spreads across each kitchen: a focus on fresh, whole ingredients, mingling with ethnic delicacies, all with a personalized touch.
One amazing benefit to eating vegan is how many options are available when we dine on dishes from other cuisines. While plenty of American and Canadian dishes depend on meat and dairy, others focus more on versatile beans, a wide variety of grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables, with herbs and spices as the main flavor enhancers. What’s more, a lot of these dishes are naturally gluten-free.
Am I an expert in cooking dishes highlighting other cultures? Absolutely not. But I really like to try.
Imam Bayildi (Turkish Stuffed Eggplant)
The name of this famous Turkish meze dish literally means “the Imam fainted” or “the Imam was thrilled;” I’ve read it is because of the liberal amount of olive oil used. Often served room temperature or cold, this dish is delicious served hot, too. Some versions of this recipe use different herbs; others bake it; and some cook the filling, first. I like this version because it’s easy to put together and benefits from the slow cooking on the stove top.
2 large eggplants, halved lengthwise
1 yellow onion, finely sliced
3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small handful each: fresh flat-leaf parsley, fresh dill, fresh basil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon unrefined sugar or agave nectar
Use a sharp knife to remove a shallow amount of the innards of the eggplant. You don’t want to scoop it all out, but instead create a shallow indent for the filling to have somewhere to sit.
Finely chop the part you scooped out, and put in a mixing bowl.
Put the eggplant in a wide saucepan with a lid, skin-side down. Sprinkle with salt.
Add the onion, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, dill, basil and salt to the eggplant innards. Mix well, adding salt to taste.
In a small bowl, mix the oil and water. If you are wary about using 3/4 cup of oil, use 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup water. If not, use 3/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup water. Either way, it will total one cup.
Mix in the sugar. Drizzle the mixture over the eggplant and into the bottom of the skillet. Distribute the filling onto the eggplant halves.
Cover and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, basting every 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool in skillet.
Squeeze with lemon juice and serve room temperature.
Serves four to six.