The Priest Faints Again

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Appears in

Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

  • About

The literal translation of Imam bayildi, the name for this Turkish platter of cold tomato-stuffed aubergines, is ‘the priest fainted’ - not overcome with flatulence as a misreading might suggest. And how many times have you heard that before and thought what a sheltered life the Imam must have led? It is odd how many cultures have dishes called things to do with clerics and their fondness for the table. The Italians, for example, have a dish of spinach and ricotta dumplings called ‘priest throttlers’.

In this case the Imam was so taken with how delicious the aubergines were he swooned, presumably after eating rather too many of them. Turkish readers may question the authenticity of this recipe. This is because, like so many dishes in the book, we have deconstructed the myth and remade it afresh. Now you have something which is both special and pretty to look at. Any priest eating it is entitled to faint, if not fart.


  • 6 small aubergines
  • 450 g/1 lb onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 6 large ripe plum tomatoes
  • bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 100 ml/ fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 lemons
  • salt and pepper



Choose small purple-black, smooth-skinned and plump aubergines and cut off both ends. Forget about all this salting nonsense: if the aubergines are old and bitter, no amount of salting is going to improve them. Peel 1 cm/½ in wide strips lengthwise to produce a striped effect. Cut a deep slit along one side of each aubergine to make a pocket, being careful not to cut all the way through.

Peel and thinly slice the onions and peel, smash and chop the garlic. Blanch, peel and chop the tomatoes. Destalk and chop the parsley.


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas6.

Fry the onions and garlic gently in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil, until soft and translucent.

Add the peeled and chopped tomatoes, season with salt, pepper and the sugar and continue to cook, stirring, until the water in the tomatoes has evaporated. Stir in the parsley, reserving some for garnish. Add the juice from one of the lemons and leave to cool.

Put the remaining olive oil in another pan and fry the aubergines over a moderate heat to seal, turning to brown lightly all over. Remove and drain.

When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, carefully open each along the cut and spoon in as much stuffing as you can.

Arrange them, cut side up, in an ovenproof dish just large enough for them to sit snugly without falling over. Spread any remaining stuffing over the top, pour over 300 ml/½ pt of cold water, cover loosely with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, when they should be tender but not collapsing. Check from time to time that they have not dried out, adding a little more water if necessary.

Take out and leave to cool.


Garnish with some of the reserved chopped flat-leaf parsley and serve at room temperature as a first course, with the other lemon cut into wedges and with warm pitta bread or toasted ciabatta.

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