Turkish cuisine which is fully justifying its reputation is always a pleasant surprise for the visitors. The cuisine is a happy mixture of the culinary traditions of an essentially pastoral people originating from Central Asia and the acquisitions made through contact with the Mediterranean world. In addition to being the refined product of experience, Turkish cuisine has a very pure quality.

Anatolia, the mainland which hosted several civilizations since about 7000 BC is very rich in vegetables and fruits of exceptional quality - mainly due to the mineral rich soil and abundance of sunshine - and when these gifts of nature are better utilized with the aid of modern agricultural skills the produce is on a par with the finest available in the world.

Olive oil is used for dishes which are to be eaten cold and, since a substantial portion of all Turkish food comprises cold dishes - mezzehs, salads, fried vegetables and some fish and meat dishes - olive oil is the most popular cooking ingredient, second only to butter.

Mezzeh is the food of the traveller, whether on a picnic, pilgrimage or long journey. Mezzeh is a large selection of little things and the ideal places to acquaint oneself with this "way of life". A traditional dinner begins with delicious mezzeh dishes (appetizers). Here is one of the great classics of the "Ottoman" cuisine you should at least try once and certanly it will not be the last!

Imam Bayildi

Aubergines stuffed with peppers, tomatoes and onions

Dish, made the Imam faint. Why did this poor man collapse on to his patterned divan? Some say that he lost consciousness because his wife had used to much expensive olive oil in its preparation, others, more cynical, innuendoed to the effect that the Imam ate so much of the dish (free, naturally) that he just made it home before passing out on the now famed patterned couch.

Here is the selfsame recipe, with not quite so much olive oil!

4 medium aubergines, washed and dried. Leave the stalks on.

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 green peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

2 fat cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

2 ripe tomatoes, sliced

3 tablespoons tomato purée

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon allspice

2 teaspoons parsley, chopped

12 tablespoons cooking oil

450 ml / ¾ pint water

Make a slit about 5 cm / 2 in long down each aubergine. Salt the insides and leave for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions, green peppers and garlic and fry gently until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the sliced tomatoes, tmato purée, salt, cayenne pepper and allspice and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chopped parsley, remove from the heat and set aside.

Rinse out the aubergines under cold running water and then pat dry.

Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan, add the aubergines and fry gently, turning several times, until the flesh begins to soften. Take care not to spoil the shape. Remove the aubergines from the pan with a slotted spoon and place, side by side, in a ovenproof dish, slit uppermost. Carefully prise open the slits and spoon some of the onion mixture into each aubergine. Add the water to any remaining onion mixture, stir and pour over the aubergines. Bake in an oven preheated to 190°C 375°F gas mark 5 for about ¾ hours.

Remove and set aside to cool. Transfer to a serving dish and chil until ready to serve.

Garnish with some chopped parsley.

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