Father Mark Swooned (aka Imam Bayildi)

I submitted this recipe recently for “Choristers’ Cookbook”, which doesn’t seem to have materialised, so now pushing it up to my blog for Sarah Ward Clavier: this is what meat-eaters need when they go veggie for a month.


It’s a Brecon Cathedral take on the famous Turkish dish "Imam Bayildi", which translates as "The Imam swooned".  One variant of the story has him swooning at the unctuous delights of the dish, the other when he discovered how much expensive olive oil his wife had used to make it.  If made well it is indescribably delicious – far exceeding the promise of the raw materials. A certain former Brecon chorister, who normally hates aubergines, described this a “surprisingly yummy”.

This recipe is derived from one published online by the New York Times, with practical modifications in the light of personal disasters experience.

The dish is not quick, if made in one go – about 2 to 2.5 hours. However the component parts of the dish can be prepared ahead, and the whole dish is best made in advance and served warm.

Allow half an aubergine per person as a starter, or as a main with other things (e.g. stuffed vine leaves, baked feta, rice/chips, salad), or dish up two halves with light accompaniments.


2 aubergines (each 15-20cm long)

1 large or 2 medium onions

1 red pepper (optional)

6 cloves of garlic

4 tablespoons Olive oil (extra virgin)

3 teaspoons sugar




1 tin chopped tomatoes

A handful of chopped fresh parsley

A handful of chopped fresh basil

A handful of chopped fresh dill

Some fresh thyme and/or oregano, or dried if fresh not available


if you cannot lay hands on fresh herbs, it's (almost) OK to use a jar of good Bolognese sauce instead of the tomatoes + herbs.


I have sometimes used both, i.e. raw ingredients plus a jar, in order to have loads of lovely sauce left over.


Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C.

The aubergines:

Half the aubergines lengthways.  Don’t remove the stalk, halve it - this helps keep things together during the long cook. On the inner faces, make two or three slits in the flesh lengthways - as deep as you can without going through the skin on the back. Place the aubergine halves face down onto an oiled tray, or onto oiled greaseproof paper on a tray to help avoid sticking. Put in the oven for 30 minutes.  When done, the skins should be wrinkly and the face slightly browned. Flip the aubergines face up, and sprinkle with some course salt (including in the slits), and set aside to rest for 30 minutes (NB this can be done in advance).

The sauce:

While the aubergines are baking, mix the chopped tomatoes and herbs in a large bowl, with a tsp sugar, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a little salt. If using a Bolognese sauce, don’t add salt.

Finely dice the red pepper (optional), slice the onion very thinly and gently fry them in about 2 tbsp olive oil for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly. The onions and peppers should be completely soft but not browned.

Mash/chop the garlic and add to the frying onions for the final minute. Then tip the lot into the bowl of tomatoes, mix, and set aside. NB this tomato sauce can be prepared in advance.

Bringing it all together:

Place the aubergine halves in a large, heavy-bottomed lidded pan or skillet. There needs to be room to get in with a spoon for basting, so use two pans if you don’t have one large enough.

Cover each half aubergine with the tomato sauce, easing it into the splits as far as possible. Put on enough to cover all the flesh of the aubergine, but you don’t want it falling off the sides. Don’t worry if you have sauce left over – use it in tomorrow’s veggie pasta or chilli. Or eat it.

In a jug, mix 2 tablespoons oil, the same amount of water, 2 teaspoons sugar, and a bit of lemon juice (optional).

Pour about half of this around the aubergines, perhaps 0.5 centimetres deep.

Put the pan(s) on a low-medium heat until the liquid is simmering, then cover and reduce the heat to minimum.

Cook gently for at least an hour, and preferably an hour and a half. Remove the lid occasionally and lose any condensate from the lid. Baste the aubergines with the liquid from the pan, and add a little more from the jug if it’s becoming too dry.

By the end, there should be not much liquid and it should be slightly caramelised – dark goo is good, so long as it hasn’t burnt.

Allow the aubergines to cool in the pan, and (as mentioned above) serve whenever you need to, but ideally when warm. Any remaining juices in the pan can be spooned over. They are just as good for tomorrow’s lunch with crusty bread.