Everyone around here is sick with some kind of upper respiratory virus, what the Victorians used to call a “violent cold.” Indeed. I’m on day four; I think Jim is lagging behind me by a day or two. Misery. All parts of a cold are awful, but the worst part for me might be the olfactory deprivation. It’s worth bearing in mind that much of what we think of as taste is actually smell. Colds knock out the nose and, so it seems, the ability to taste anything that lacks a truly assertive smell. These days, I can barely tell the difference between chicken and pork. Texture is the only sure thing right now.
Bad timing too, since Jim’s parents offered to babysit for us last night so that we could go out to dinner. We still went, mind you. A little illness isn’t much of a deterrent, and after all, who would reject such a kind offer? However, instead of going to Niche, the acclaimed restaurant that we’d that planned to visit, we went to Aya Sofia, a Turkish restaurant that is one of our favorite places in the city. I was afraid that the food at Niche will be too subtle and refined for our deadened senses. Besides, we both really needed to eat some garlic.
Humans have been eating garlic for something like 6,000 years. It’s often been regarded as a powerful medicine. Recent students have validated its medicinal properties, citing its ability to reduce various forms of inflammation, including inflammation of the nasal passages. Some studies indicate that it might lessen the severity and duration of common colds. It could help reduce blood pressure and improve memory. Even Nyquil can’t make that claim.
Aya Sofia is an excellent Turkish restaurant and a perfect place to get a powerful wallop of allium. I could do without the belly dancer, who shows up on weekend nights at around 9:00, but other than that, it’s a fabulous place to eat. It’s boisterious without being noisy. The waitstaff is professional and the prices are well within the stratosphere. They also have a good wine list, featuring a number of excellent Spanish wines, my current favorites.
And, of course, the food is good. Other than the tapenade, which they used to serve as a sort of amuse bouche, my favorite thing to eat there is the Imam Bayildi. It’s one of those things that is easy enough to make at home — containing only olive oil, eggplant, onion, tomato sauce, and garlic, lots and lots of garlic.
Imam Bayildi was a good choice for my condition, riffing nicely, on my general sense of wooziness. The phrase translates to “the Imam fainted,” and the story behind that unusual title goes something like this. An Imam’s new bride wanted to impress her husband with her cooking skills so she invented a recipe for eggplant that contained quite a bit of garlic. It was so delicious that the Imam apparently fainted after eating it. A rather less generous version of the story has it that the bride used an excessive amount of olive oil, which, of course, made it a rather expensive meal, and the Imam was so overwhelmed by her poor judgement that he fainted. I prefer the garlic version.
Jim and I came home last night fairly reeking of garlic, but no one seemed to mind. I was happy that the delicious food penetrated my deadend olfactory system. Perhaps the garlic is beginning to work its magic and will start to heal our dreaded colds.
Imam Biyildi is really pretty easy to make at home. It’s also a good cure for anything that might be ailing you.
6 Asian eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 cup olive oil
10 cloves of garlic (yes, ten, trust me), very thinly sliced
1 Spanish onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
Spicy tomato sauce (recipe follows)
Place the eggplants on a rimmed cookie sheet and salt generously. Leave alone for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the eggplants well and place them in a 9×12 baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil. Scatter the garlic and onion over top and bake for 10 minutes, covered with aluminium foil. Remove from oven, top with the tomato sauce. Cover the pan again and cook for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for about 10-15 minutes more. Serve with pita bread to soak up the juices.
Spicy Tomato Sauce
2 tbs. olive oil
5 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 28 ounce can of whole organic tomatoes with juices
2 tbs. cider vinegar
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper (or more, if you’d like)
1 tsp. dried mint, crumbled
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp. ground cumin
In a large sauce pan, saute the garlic in the olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, breaking up tomatoes. Keep at room temperature until needed.