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THEN THE IMAM FAINTED
August 26, 2003
 
The long season of rain in June seems to have slowed things down in the garden -- for weeks, we have had an abundance of green tomatoes and not a single red one, long after the time when we would ordinarily be up to our necks in them. Sunday, at last, the red avalanche began: the ruby globes peek from behind the leaves of every plant in the garden. And there are nineteen tomato plants this year, a fair number for two people.

But tomato gardening was never meant to be solely for the benefit of one's own household. Clearly, such a handsome fruit was meant to be shared. Q will dispense tomatoes to the neighbors, to our children, to the sexton of our old church, who looked forward to them every year and whom we still love. He'll give them, also to people who just look to him like they need them.

Harvested food, in scripture, is meant to give away. After the farmer has harvested his crops, he is to leave some for the poor to gather. They come into the fields after the workers have left, and what remains is theirs for the taking.

City Harvest in New York does that with restaurants. They pick up in a truck what the restaurants don't sell, and bring it to food pantries and soup kitchens. Our guests at the pantry at St. Clement's sometimes had a City Harvest windfall: trays of expensive hors d'ouevres, baskets of breakfast breads, platters of luncheon meats, fancy desserts. Amy's bread does that too, for our pantry: on Friday, what Amy didn't sell could go to the food pantry, and someone would go across the street after hours and come back with one or two enormous black plastic bags, fragrant with the lovely loaves. On the day the World Trade Center was destroyed, a truck pulled up in front of the church: a complete meal, for a meeting there that would never take place.

Tomatoes. Fresh in Q's lunchtime salad. Sliced on a plate at dinner. Fried in the morning for breakfast. Chopped and baked with chunks of eggplant and garlic and olive oil in one of his favorite Turkish dishes:

One day an imam was riding from one little town to another. He stopped at the home of a poor family on his way, and asked to be given something to eat. The wife of the house, honored to have the imam as her guest, set before him all the food they had, and her husband sat with him as he ate. One dish in particular was her pride and joy, the best thing she knew how to make. She watched anxiously as the imam picked up a piece of pita bread and dipped it into the dish. Would he like it? He tasted, and everyone was silent. He rolled his eyes toward heaven in delight and said, "Allah is great!" The name of the dish in Turkish is Imam Byaldi, which means:

Then The Imam Fainted


Take as many tomatoes as you have and cut them into chunks.
Take as many eggplants as you have and do the same. There should be slightly more eggplant than tomato. Put these into a greased ovenproof dish.
Mince 20 cloves of garlic and stir into the eggplant/tomato mixture.
Add as much olive oil as you want and stir it in. Maybe 1/2 cup. Maybe less.
Add pignoli nuts if you have them. Maybe 1/2 cup.
Bake at 325 F for about an hour and a half, covered. Stir once or twice, if you want to.
Eat it, hot or cold -- sitting down -- on pieces of pita.
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