Imam bayildi – vegetarian stuffed aubergines

Imam bayildi – vegetarian stuffed aubergines

imam bayildi vegetarian stuffed aubergines

People often ask me if being vegan in Greece is difficult as the common perception is that all of the famous Greek dishes contain either meat or cheese: moussaka, pastitsio, Greek salad and souvlaki.

My answer is that it is actually quite easy as Greeks also have several naturally vegan dishes that are very, very tasty. In case you are planning a trip to this stunning country and want to stick to your vegan diet, make sure to ask for*: a delicious dip made from yellow split-peas called “fava”, roast beetroot with garlic sauce “skordalia”, stuffed peppers and tomatoes “gemista”, sautéed Greek wild greens – “horta”, giant baked beans “gigatnes plaki”, roasted vegetables – “briam”, a traditional Greek dessert – “halva”, rice stuffed wine leaves “dolmades” and today’s recipe known as “aubergine imam” or “imam bayildi”. It is basically a vegetarian stuffed aubergine dish. You should be able to find all of the above in every decent Greek taverna so you won’t go hungry.

As always, there are exceptions to every rule. On our recent greek ferry trip from Italy to Greece, nearly the entire food on offer contained some sort of meat. When I asked if there is anything vegetarian (I think ‘vegan’ would blow their mind…) apart from pasta with bland tomato sauce, I was shown a tray of green beans in tomato sauce. Upon closer inspection, however, it turned out that the said dish contains pieces of meat. When I pointed it out, the ‘chef ‘ got very cross with me and slammed my only option (a plate of pasta with plain tomato sauce) in front of me in anger. I think he is yet to discover the wonders of eating vegetables on a regular basis.

Today’s dish is one of these naturally vegan dishes, which would make any vegetarian or vegan travelling on my greek ferry sing with joy – aubergine imam. As far as I know, even though Greeks consider this dish theirs, it originates from Turkey where it is known under the name of “imam bayildi”. As legend has it, its Turkish name (which means “priest fainted”) derives from a tale of a Turkish priest who nearly fainted with pleasure at the delicious flavour of this dish.

preparing vegetarian stuffed aubergines

varieties of aubergines

pre roasted aubergines

peeling tomatoes for sauce

40 min
20 min
40 min
20 min
  • 5 medium eggplants
  • 3 tbsp / 45 ml olive oil
  • 6 tomatoes, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • ½ tsp sea salt + more to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • handful of fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp of fresh dill
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (I used brown, unrefined)
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, dry roasted
  1. Preheat the oven to 230 º C / 450 º F.
  2. Using a sharp knife, make deep slits in the aubergines, lengthwise (be careful not to pierce them all the way to the bottom). Fit the aubergines into a baking tray (slit side up) and pre-bake them for 30 minutes.
  3. While the aubergines are baking, make the sauce. Heat up 1 and ½ tbsp olive oil in a pan. Add chopped onions and fry them gently until soft and translucent. Add chopped garlic to the onions and fry them off for another minute or two. Add cinnamon and coat the onion & garlic mixture in it. Set aside.
  4. After 30 minutes, take pre-baked aubergines out of the oven and place them on a colander (in the sink) and let the excess water drain off. Reduce oven temperature to 180 º C / 355 º F
  5. Once aubergines have drained and cooled off, scoop some of their flesh out to make room for the stuffing. Chop scooped out aubergine flesh finely and add to the onion and garlic mixture, together with chopped tomatoes. Fry it all off gently until tomatoes lose their moisture and you get a thick sauce. Season with sugar, salt and pepper. Add most of fresh parsely and dill (reserve a little for garnish.
  6. Lightly salt the inside of scooped aubergines and fill them with the tomato mixture.
  7. Snugly place them in an oven-proof dish and pour the rest of tomato mixture to the bottom of the dish with 1 and ½ tbsp of olive oil and 40 ml of water
  8. Cover the tray with a piece of kitchen foil and bake in a 180 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
  9. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with fresh dill or parsley and roasted pine nuts.

*Make sure to double-check with your waiter if the dish is vegan as some, like Gemista, exist in meat versions too.

21 g
12 g
2 g
7 g
37 g
*per aubergine
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5 reviews, 9 comments
Incredibly delicious! The recipe is easy to follow and the result is amazing. I will be making this dish more often for sure, thank you!
    Aw thank you, Maaike! I'm delighted to hear that you enjoyed it and thanks so much for taking the time to review, I really appreciate it. x Ania
Jillian Churchill:
I made this fior my very sceptical family a couple of days ago. They were absolutely blown away! So tasty, and not the soggy augegine dish they were expecting. Absolutely delicious, and very easy to do. Thank you - it's a regular in our house now!
    I'm delighted to hear that, Jillian! And thank you for taking the time to review and rate this recipe – it really helps my blog grow! x Ania
I made this last night and it is delicious! I added chickpeas with the tomato passata and let it all simmer together before adding the aubergine. It made my whole kitchen smell wonderful. I will definitely make this again.
    Thank you, Cassie! That's great to hear! x Ania
Maikki // Maikin mokomin:
This look so good! I'm sure these would be amazing with some herb marinated lentils or chickpeas :)
    Thanks Maikki and I'm sure you are right too:)
Nutmeg goes in with cinnamon?
    Yes, but you can skip either if you don't like them. Some people make this with no spices, just salt & pepper. Others use cumin. Hope you like the result.
      It was good. I'd add less cinnamon next time. Added some hot paprika later to add some counterpoint. Also, it was very wet, so I took foil off and baked for another 15 minutes.
        Thanks for your feedback, Randy. I will check the timings again next time and adjust the recipe if it needs more baking.
Really interesting post. Thank you. We are thinking of travelling in Greece next summer so this is good info. I think that I will make this dish tonight!
    Thanks Nicole, hope you like this dish and I'm sure you'll love Greece!
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