Archive for August, 2018

Iman Bayildi or Stuffed Eggplant

August 25, 2018


Long ago and far away in a legendary city by the sea, I bought a little paperback book. The year was 1964; the city-Dar es Salaam (haven of peace) established by Arab traders in the mid 19thcentury; the sea-the Indian Ocean; the book- Round the World in Eighty Dishes by Leslie Blanch. This 4-by 7-inch now tattered and stained book filled with exotic recipes accompanied by fanciful, curlicued drawings brought me delight and inspiration as I set about preparing tasty meals with

cut eggplant

limited provisions in a remote village of Tanzania.

The author, an English artist and novelist, traveled the world with her French diplomat husband and later on her own. She tells intriguing stories about each of the fabled recipes with tantalizing names such as The Emir’s Jewels, Rosy Dawn Dish, Roquebrune Tartine. Fortunately many of the recipes called for vegetables available occasionally in our local village market such as onions, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Eggplant,

squeezed eggplant

sometimes called garden egg in Africa, brinjal by Hindi speakers, aubergine by the Brits, is beloved by the Indians and Lebanese who often form the merchant class in African cities and villages. The vegetable grew well in small, cultivated gardens or shambas near plentiful water.

Thus eggplant it was when eggplant was in season. We had moussaka with minimal meat, poor man’s caviar (eggplant salad or spread), ratatouille and of course Iman Bayildi meaning the dish that

filling cooked

made the Iman swoon. This vegetarian stuffed eggplant is practically a national dish in Greece, Turkey and around the Middle East.  In Ms. Blanch’s recipe for this fatal eggplant preparation which caused the priest to faint, the vegetables are boiled, stewed and baked over pages of description. Nowadays, we take the same ingredients in a simplified formula and still reach a swoony result.

Iman Bayildi  (Stuffed Eggplant)


open ready

1 12-15 oz. black or purple eggplant

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion (8-10 oz.)

2-3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, basil, parsley, etc)

small pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

2 medium-large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced  (a generous cup)


(reserve the squeezed out tomato juice, strain out seeds)

Salt, pinch sugar

Remove the green cap from the eggplant, halve lengthwise, and cut the flesh into wide cross hatch without piercing the skin. Sprinkle generously with salt and set aside to let the salt draw excess water from the eggplant.

Meanwhile, peel, quarter and thinly slice the onion. Gently sweat the onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil (cover with butter wrappers or

served with yogurt

parchment). As the onion softens add chopped garlic, herbs and red pepper. Once the onion is fully wilted and the garlic fragrant, remove butter papers, add tomatoes, salt, pinch of sugar, and simmer until all the tomato juice has cooked away. Taste for seasoning.

Rinse salt from the eggplant and squeeze away excess moisture. Scrape the tomato mixture from the frying pan. Add another spoon of oil and sauté the eggplant, cut side down over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and sauté for 10 minutes, covered.

served with cherry tomatoes

Lower the heat if it seems to be frying.

Taste the eggplant flesh. If it tastes salty enough, leave them as they are, or sprinkle with salt if needed. Place the eggplant shells in an oiled baking dish cut side up, fill them with the tomato mixture, pour around 2-3 tablespoons reserved tomato juice and bake in a 375º-400ºoven for 30-45 minutes or until very soft, slightly caramelized and temptingly delicious.

The stuffed eggplant may be served warm, but they are best at room temperature preferably with a spoonful of plain, homemade yogurt or a chiffonade of fresh basil and halved cherry tomatoes. Serves 2-4

Peach Crostata

August 5, 2018

Peach Crostata

Sweet, hand-sized fruit pies in the farmers market catch my eye. They tempt with their miniature size, but the crust is thick and fillings ooze pasty rather than juicy.  When I come upon some ripe peaches in the next stall, I imagine  thin, buttery pastry, warm peaches and just a touch of sweet. So how was I going to get to my personal peach pie?

Maybe a Crostata—that Italian free form tart with the pleated edging and fruit mounded center. It might

pie crust

not be glamorous, nor would it hold up for hours in the hot sun, but shortly after it came from the oven or toasted up the next day, it would be perfect.

Two problems faced me: first peach juiciness would make the filling runny. And secondly how could I bump up the peach flavor inside the crust blanket.

I’d solve the first problem by lightly sugaring peeled, sliced peaches until the sugar drew out the juice, which I’d drain off, boil up and add

rolled pastry

as a syrup over the tart when serving.  I’d tackle the second query with a blob of thick, homemade peach jam smeared on the pastry base before mounding in the wilted peach slices.  I’d then pleat up the crust around the peach mound, brush it with cream, sprinkle with sugar and pop the lot into a hot oven.

After 25 minutes I had my quintessential individual peach pie! Though since I had all that oven heat going on, it was wise to make 4 crostatas.  A parchment covered

jam added

baking sheet held my four small pies—ideal summer treats and easy to pack up for a picnic, but they’re best the day they’re baked.

Peach Crostata

For each crostata to serve 2:

4 oz. lightly sweetened, chilled pie crust

peaches added

2 ripe peaches

1 tablespoon sugar

1 ½ tablespoons thick peach jam, homemade if possible

¼ teaspoon cornstarch

sliver of butter

Cream and sugar for the crust

Scald peaches 10 seconds in boiling water to loosen peel. Peel, slice and toss with sugar.  Set aside for 20 minutes as the sugar draws

pastry pleating

juice from the peaches.

Preheat oven to 450º. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Drain peaches in a sieve and save the juice. Roll the dough into a 9-inch circle. Spoon jam into the center of the circle. Sprinkle cornstarch over jam. Mound a cup of wilted sliced peaches over the starch sprinkled jam and begin pleating the dough up around the peaches, leaving the center open. Use a flat, thin plastic scraper to gently slide the filled pastry onto the cookie sheet. (If this seems too tricky, shape the

ready to bake

crostata right on the parchment.) Top with a thin slice of butter. Brush the pastry with cream or milk and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with as many small pies as will fit on your baking sheet.

Bake the pies 20-25 minutes or until richly browned.  Meanwhile boil up the reserved peach juice to a thick syrup and drizzle over the baked tarts when serving with soft whipped cream. Each pie is enough for 2.


4 pies