Greek stuffed eggplants are tightly tied with summer.
In Greek, we call them “melitzanes imam or imam bayildi” and it is a delicious dish made of fresh, in season, eggplants, rich aromatic tomato sauce and topped with chunks of spicy feta cheese. The magic happens in the oven, where the feta cheese slightly melts and the flesh of the aubergines absorbs all this amazing thick tomato sauce!
You can find a lot of different variations of this dish all across the Mediterranean.
Some prefer to add mint, dry oregano or cumin to the tomato sauce, while others love to add beef minced meat or lamb.
What we really love about this splendid recipe, that generally a lot of people get wrong, is the quantity of olive oil we use.
We’ve talked about this in another post and we can’t stress enough how Greek cuisine is tied with getting the perfect balance of olive oil in the food.
This stuffed eggplant recipe has the PERFECT amount of olive oil.
It’s not too much, so it is not heavy or hard to digest, neither too little, so it still retains its character as a “lathero” dish.
I have to admit that it is a recipe which requires a bit of effort and is a bit more time consuming.
That is why we like to bake a big pan each time!
Stuffed aubergines make the perfect dish to serve at a family gathering on a long, hot summer evening.
Cook your way into their hearts with this absolute late summer delicacy!
TIPS FOR ULTIMATE GREEK STUFFED EGGPLANTS
- Eggplants love the sun, so they’re at their best in July and August.
- The sweetest variety of all is the white eggplant that has no seeds at all.
- Try to choose aubergines which are firm and heavy for their size. If they are soft and light, they will be bitter, will have less flesh and a lot of seeds.
- Tomatoes used for the sauce should be very ripe. That is why summer is the ideal season for imam bayildi.
- You will know that the tomato sauce is ready, when the bubbles that are created resemble “molten lava”.
- Feta cheese is the ideal choice of cheese. Its spicy flavor balances the sweetness of the tomato sauce and adds a depth of taste to the neutral palette of eggplant. If you opt for different cheese, use a cheese that will melt.
- Stuffed eggplants are at their best to eat the following day. Refrigerate overnight and bring to room temperature a couple of hours before serving.
- 10-12 medium eggplants, rinsed
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 big onions, cut in thin slices (approximately 1kg.)
- 2kg. fresh tomatoes, finely minced
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1tbsp. sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
- ½ kg. spicy feta cheese
- 1lt. sunflower oil
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and make crisscross cuts on their flesh.
Salt them lightly and put them face-down in a strainer for at least 30 minutes.
This will help remove the bitterness and excess water.
In a big pot, over medium-high heat, put olive oil and sauté the onions for 5 minutes, until they become translucent, but not soggy.
Add the garlic and sugar and cook for 5 more minutes.
At this point, add the minced tomatoes and bay leaves.
Sprinkle some salt, but keep in mind that feta cheese is quite salty.
Once brought to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the sauce has no excess water.
Meanwhile, bring the sunflower oil up to medium-high temperature in a medium pot.
You will know the oil is ready when the surface ripples.
Squeeze out excess water from the eggplants and pat them dry with paper towels, this will help significantly reduce oil splatter.
Get a platter and spread out paper towels.
When oil is up to temperature, fry flesh side down, flipping until nicely browned.
Each side will take about 4-5 minutes.
Remove when ready, flesh side down on the paper towels.
When frying, don’t overcrowd, best to fry in 5-6 batches, to avoid the eggplants becoming soggy and oily.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius/fan mode.
Around this time, the sauce will be thickened and ready.
This is the ideal time to add the parsley and season to taste.
Prepare the pan by adding a thin layer of sauce.
Layer the aubergines side by side, skin side down, until you cover the surface of the pan.
Make indents in the flesh of the eggplants with the back of a spoon.
Put a ladle of sauce over each aubergine and, if there is any leftover, fill in the crevasses.
Crumble the feta cheese and sprinkle over the eggplants.
Bake for 30 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.
After 30 minutes, lower the temperature to 160 degrees Celsius/up & down heating elements and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until the feta cheese is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 1, but preferably 2 hours, so the flavors come together.