Well, apparently Hacivad Bey’s prompting to get back to writing stirred things up a little bit. We’ll see how long it lasts, says the naysayer. As M. and I walked through the local Armenian grocery, picking up their delectable İmam bayıldı along the way (a stuffed eggplant dish called ‘the imam swooned’) a wave of shame passed over me. The shame had a name – the name of one of the Karagöz puppets living in my head who gives me the hardest time in life….
Before I could even say başlama to myself, I heard Kenne, the Queen of Manners and Maintenance of Ladylike Behaviors puppet whispering in my ear. “You are the wife of a Turk, yet you have never, ever cooked İmam bayıldı – or anything else uniquely Turkish other than çay, although I must admit, you have mastered that passably well.”
Rolling my eyes behind Kenne’s back, I willed her out of my mind as I promised myself to go home, and cook some gosh darned Turkish food for once. It was bad enough that the Hanım Efendi (lady proprietress referred to with an honorific) of the grocery we were in didn’t even acknowledge me or my attempts to greet her properly in Turkish – despite that I’ve been shopping there for 10 years. I hate to say it, but this lady, she reminds me of Karagöz at his meanest – snobby about my fledgling Turkish and ready to ignore me in the cruelest of ways before making fun of me in a belittling way for mispronouncing something. But mostly just ignoring me. In any case, the rest of the puppets soothed me from my own thin skin, propped me up, stopped me from feeling sorry for myself and marched me out of there to cook something Turkish, damn it!
Armed with eggplant, lemons, tomato, olive oil, sugar, cinnamon and a bay leaf, I turned to the Internet for a tarifi (recipe). Karagöz, that impish trickster puppet, quiet for so long due to being bound and gagged by his compatriots, ROLLED on his fat paunchy stomach laughing like all get-out at the idea of finding a RECIPE on the INTERNET. “You are so in trouble – you need to learn that from your abla (big sister) or your kaynana (mother-in-law) – you’ll FAIL MISERABLY otherwise.” I threw him down the drain with some lemon rinds and ground him up in the garbage disposal, bit by camel-hide bit.
Turning back to my iPad without distraction now, I chose a recipe from the New York Times. Although I could hear a cackling warning in my head from some errant puppet saying “you are going to trust the NYT to teach you how to make İmam bayıldı” , I ignored it. What else was I going to do? Trust some crazy blogger with photos of clearly under-cooked eggplant? No. Here is the recipe that I started with - click here. Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice Trader puppet cheered me on, however, reminding me that I should be very careful with the amount of cinnamon that I had chosen to add – from reading a Turkish recipe and adding that bit to my NYT choice.
Starting with the eggplants, I sliced them in half – careful not to break through to the other side. I considered removing the bitter seeds right then and there but decided to follow the recipe (something I rarely do). After cooking them at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes – they were barely shriveled. Despite the ghost of Karagöz the questioner who had taken up residence in my mind by now, I gave them another ten minutes, to good result. In the meantime, I practiced my conjugation of the verb “to cook” while softening the onions and then peeling and coring the tomatoes.
After leaving the eggplants to drain for a bit, I took at look at them, burning my fingertips along the way. “I f*ing hate eggplants!” I found myself calling out, terrifically Karagöz-like as I really don’t, I really LIKE eggplants. M. stormed in the door at this point, grumpy from a tough day – clearly not ready to be my in-house culinary consultant. I left the eggplants to sit a little more while making him a tomato-cucumber-white-cheese salad with lemon and olive oil (his nectar of the Gods).
Facing my task anew, my renewed enthusiasm flagged, as I saw the chunky, heavy flesh before me, with no room present to receive the delectable tomato-onion stuffing I had patiently prepared. “I shoved my fingers into the largest eggplant, trying to pull out the deceptively slippery seeds, which seemed to be GRINNING at me with spite. I couldn’t pull those God Damn things out without ripping the skin, which was supposed to be intact – and my fingers were getting singed to boot.
I stomped my foot. It did not help. I looked up at the windowsill and saw the ENTIRE puppet troupe there, cheering me on. I shoved my hand back up into the bowels of the big eggplant, determined to harvest those seeds by any means necessary. I emerged with a tiny string of seeds. “F this,” I said to nobody in particular, ignoring Kenne’s horror at my potty mouth, “I’m using a knife.” Diverting from the recipe, I held the steaming hot eggplants under water and hacked away at the seed threads in a way that could NEVER be referred to as yavaş yavaş (slowly by slowly). I even tried speaking lovingly to the eggplant seeds, for a second, before cursing them again.
At this point, M. walked through and said, very unhelpfully, “you have to take the seeds out.” After cutting onions thinly, blanching tomatos in boiling water to peel them, coring and seeding them – and fisting those hot and heavy eggplant bottoms, I could only think of the great respect I have for all the Turkish women out there who cook this dish on a daily basis. Damn!
In the end, my red-hot fingers managed to survive my first fisting eggplants episode – and M. (and the rest of the puppets) deemed the lemony sauce “just right,” although I’m not sure if he was placating me or not. Come over and visit, if you promise to cheer me on, I’ll fist eggplants for you too – and you can be a judge of my version of the dish!
(Or send me your secret for how to get rid of those awfully stubborn seeds!)
P.S. Later that evening, M. said “it actually needed more salt, and those eggplants are shit – they have no taste! They are not Turkish eggplants. But it is not YOUR fault.” Sigh.