Aubergine, also known as eggplant, or patlıcan in Turkish, is a key ingredient in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes. In addition to having many varieties, aubergine has become a perennial crop, cultivated in large quantities all year round. It was introduced to the Anatolian population during the 6th century and has since been cooked and presented in many different ways to satisfy easy, healthy and exquisite taste.
Today the aubergine is described as the tarla balığı or “fish of the fields” for its versatility and range of subtle but rich flavours. It has inspired the creation of many dishes served at any time of the day. Two of the most popular dishes, moussaka (called musakka in Turkish) and Imam bayıldı, embrace all flavours of the Middle East. Both are meze of the Turkish cuisine, meaning they can be eaten as hot or cold appetizers or small plates.
Turkish mussaka is a baked meat and aubergine casserole. Although there are several versions of the dish, the Turkish mussaka is similar to the Greek one. The aubergine can be substituted with another vegetable which is typically fried to give extra flavour and body to the dish. The fried mincemeat is accompanied with fresh tomato sauce and high-quality olive oil, two quintessential Anatolian ingredients. An alternative is the vegetarian version which excludes the meat but follows the original procedures of the recipe. In addition, Turkish mussaka is usually served with a side of boiled white rice, bulgur pilaf or bread. A culinary secret is to make the dish in advance in order for all the ingredients to combine and merge, creating a simple but rewarding meal. Mussaka is one of those childhood memory dishes that characterise family and friend gatherings and events.
The Imam bayıldı or stuffed aubergines is a simple yet delicious and tasty dish. Although its origins are uncertain, the dish is considered to be one of the most appreciated recipes of the Anatolian cuisine. The key ingredient of this dish is the aubergine accompanied by the generous amounts of olive oil and onions. Cooking imam bayıldı is time-consuming due to the low and slow braising procedure, however, this is what makes the dish so delectable in taste. The people of Anatolia enjoy the simpler and lighter version which does not involve any frying, nevertheless, the taste is different. The traditional dish pleases all eaters, whether vegetarian or vegan, and can be presented as a side dish, as an accompaniment to meat, fish or even rice or bulgur.
Beyond the cultural element, aubergines play an important part in Turkey’s economy, being the leading producer in the international market. Whether as a main or side dish, hot or cold, the delicate taste of aubergines is well appreciated among the people of Anatolia population.