Imam Bayildi with Onions

Passover will feel a little strange for me this year. I’m used to having lots of grownups and a bunch of kid cousins, a crowded dining room with tables that spill into the entryway, a ton of food, crayon-friendly placemats for the little ones, plus puppets and other props we use to keep the children occupied and interested during the Haggadah reading.

But families get bigger as the years go by and people move and somehow — it seems this happens to so many people — the time comes when families separate and have their own Seders. That’s what’s happening to me this year.

It’s been my gig for more than 25 years. In the early days when my generation were the young ones with children, there were a couple of times when my sister-in-law Barbara had a Seder. And two or three times we went to my brother Jeff’s house for Passover. And once we even had a Seder at a restaurant with extended family. I hated that.

My Mom had the Seders before I took over. Now I understand how she felt when my aunt Min called one year before Passover and told her that their family had become so big (4 children had married and had kids) they couldn’t burden my Mom anymore and would have their own.

But we’ll still celebrate. Still read the Haggadah. Still have the Seder plate and sing the songs and hide the afikomen and pour the cup of wine for Elijah. Passover is a joyous holiday. A time to be happy that so many of us are still together, celebrating together, appreciating our lives and being grateful for what we have. Isn’t that what the Haggadah really tells us? To read about the journey to freedom and be thankful for it?

A Thanksgiving of sorts. 

In fact, when my son-in-law Jesse asks what I’m serving and I tell him “turkey” he answers, “oh, Thanksgiving.”

Sort of. My Passover menu always centers around turkey. My mother made turkey. My grandmother made turkey. There’s also cranberry sauce. But that’s where the Thanksgiving comparison ends. Obviously there won’t be pie or bread stuffing!

Of course there will still be a ton of other food. Like most families, we will repeat our favorite menu, although I can’t help but add a few things here and there and experiment with a few dishes so we always wind up with days worth of leftovers.

One of the constant dishes in my menu is Imam Bayildi, which is braised eggplant with tomatoes. It’s a good side dish and you can make it a day or so ahead. Also, it’s the kind of dish you can eat hot, warm or at room temperature. If there’s a vegetarian in your life, this dish is also a winner.

So, smaller Seder or whatever, we are going to celebrate and wish everyone a Happy Passover.

Here’s the recipe:

Imam Bayildi

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 large tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup water

Cut the eggplant into slices about 3/8-inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and let rest for 30 minutes. Wipe the eggplant slices dry with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Cook the eggplant slices a few at a time for 2-3 minutes per side or until slightly wilted. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed to prevent scorching (use 4-5 tablespoons more if needed). Place the cooked eggplant into a baking dish (cut it into smaller pieces if you wish). Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, parsley, sugar, salt and lemon juice. Cook for one minute, stirring frequently. Spoon the vegetables on top of the eggplant. Drizzle with any remaining olive oil and the water. Cover the pan and bake for 45 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6-8 servings