Layers of eggplant baked in a spiced and flavorful tomato sauce, this Turkish eggplant casserole recipe is a spin on Imam Bayildi, a classic Turkish eggplant dish known for its generous amount of olive oil.
This version is served casserole-style and somewhat resembles eggplant parmesan, with its rich tomato sauce and tender baked eggplant slices. However, the similarities end there. Turkish eggplant casserole is simple and straightforward and doesn't require bread crumbs or extra cheese (but go for it with the bubbly, melted cheese if you'd like!).
It all comes together for a delicious keto eggplant casserole, a healthy main dish that is not only low-carb but also dairy-optional, gluten-free and vegan-friendly.
Note: I updated the original post in Sept. 2021 to make sure you have the best recipe and content! There are new photos, more details about the dish and process, and improvements to the original recipe.
what is Turkish eggplant casserole?
Turkish eggplant casserole begins with large eggplant rounds that are pan-fried over medium heat in a copious amount of olive oil that may seem excessive (but it's not). The eggplant rounds are then layered in a casserole dish with spoonfuls of a flavor-packed tomato sauce that's spiced with chili flakes and cinnamon. It's rich and earthy with a low heat level that you can definitely adjust to your own liking.
The sauce has a slightly different flavor profile than a homemade marinara sauce since it lacks that Italian seasoning, but there's something about the subtle spiciness with the sweet cinnamon that works so well. It's quite possibly my favorite way to enjoy eggplant!
Turkish eggplant casserole is:
- low-carb, keto-friendly, vegan and gluten-free
- a healthy, meatless option
- simple to make with less than 10 ingredients required
This is an easy casserole with bold spices that are inspired by a traditional Imam bayildi recipe. While my Turkish eggplant recipe is not authentic by any means, it's delicious and has a great flavor!
I originally adapted this recipe from Feed Me Phoebe, and it was one of the first recipes I ever shared here. Since then, I've made some changes to the original recipe, the biggest being a reduction in the amount of olive oil.
The eggplant slices soak up the olive oil as they cook in the pan, so you will need to continue adding olive oil as you fry each batch of eggplant slices. In total, I use about ¾ cup to 1 cup. You can be more or less generous with it and still get great results.
Here's a full list of the simple ingredients you'll need for this Turkish eggplant casserole recipe:
- globe eggplant
- extra virgin olive oil
- fresh garlic, minced
- onion, diced
- canned, organic petite diced tomatoes (I prefer fire-roasted for extra spiciness)
- tomato sauce
- sea salt and black pepper
- fresh parsley or fresh basil for garnish, chopped
- red pepper flakes
- parmesan cheese, pecorino or fresh mozzarella cheese (optional topping- omit to make it a vegan eggplant casserole)
let's make a Turkish eggplant casserole
This keto eggplant recipe is incredibly easy, but to be completely upfront with you, the prep time leans a bit on the long-ish side.
You'll spend some time salting the eggplant to draw out moisture, then frying batches of eggplant slices before assembling the casserole and popping it into the oven to bake.
All in all, the effort is well worth it. 😉
Here's a quick summary of the steps involved but be sure to check out the full recipe card at the bottom of the page for all of the details and ingredient amounts.
- Cut the eggplant into thick slices horizontally and then spread the eggplant rounds in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle them with salt and let them sit for 20 minutes to "sweat." This step helps reduce the slightly bitter taste of eggplant and also draws out moisture.
- Pat each eggplant round dry with paper towels or a clean cloth.
- In a saucepan, cook the onion to soften. Add the garlic, then add the rest of the ingredients. Let the sauce simmer on low until it's time to use.
- Fry each of the slices of eggplant in a little bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Let the eggplant cook about 2-3 minutes per side until they are golden brown. The eggplant will soak up nearly all of the olive oil so you will need to add more after each batch. Transfer the cooked eggplant to a plate.
- Assemble the keto eggplant casserole in a cast iron skillet or casserole dish by creating layers of fried eggplant. Spread the tomato sauce between each layer of eggplant. Transfer the baking dish to the oven to bake. When it's done, garnish with fresh parsley and cheese if you wish.
eggplant casserole tips
- Before frying the eggplant, make sure to pat dry each piece very well to prevent extra oil splatter when you set each eggplant slice in the pan.
- You can use crushed tomatoes if you do not have diced tomatoes.
- Season the tomato sauce to taste, adding more salt and pepper or cinnamon and chili flakes as needed.
- This eggplant casserole recipe is super easy to make cheesy! If you'd like to top it with cheese, sprinkle it on before serving or add it to the eggplant casserole during the last 10-15 minutes of bake time. Fresh mozzarella, parmesan, burrata, and white cheddar cheese are all great options that add that something extra to the baked eggplant slices. To keep this vegan, feel free to sprinkle on some nutritional yeast if you'd like a little bit of cheesy flavor.
- This Turkish eggplant casserole will keep in the fridge for up to 7 days. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap or store the casserole in an airtight container.
frequently asked questions
Eggplants are low in carbs and high in fiber which makes them well suited for a low-carb lifestyle. They're sort of like a wonder vegetable and are incredibly versatile! I've used eggplant as noodles and even blended it into curry for a thicker, silkier consistency.
The quick answer is, it depends. The skin is edible but it's sometimes thicker and tough on really large eggplants and might leave your dish with more of a bitter taste. You can peel it if you like, but for younger, smaller eggplants, it's not necessary. I usually don't worry about it.
Eggplant has a naturally occurring enzyme that can sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste. Luckily, you can easily "sweat" eggplant by sprinkling it with salt and letting it sit for a while. This helps reduce the bitterness and draws out moisture.
Turkish eggplant casserole has a much higher healthy fat to carb ratio, which makes it an ideal low-carb and keto recipe (that's also vegan!).
Plus, it's loaded with extra virgin olive oil, an incredibly healthy fat known for lowering heart disease risk along with its cell protective and anti-inflammatory abilities.
While this hearty eggplant casserole checks all the boxes when it comes to healthy eating, its flavor profile is worth raving about too. The sauce is extra delicious with that hint of cinnamon and heat, which means you can prepare it as a low-carb and vegan main course or side dish without compromising on flavor!
If you try this Turkish eggplant casserole recipe and enjoy it, I hope you consider leaving a five-star review and/or comment below! Or follow along on Instagram and tag @stemandspoon! I love seeing what you're making.
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- 2 medium eggplants
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 4-5 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1, 14-oz. can petite diced tomatoes, fire roasted (no added sugar)
- 1, 8-oz. can tomato sauce (no added sugar)
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes (more for extra spice)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil + 2 tablespoons
- fresh parsley, chopped (optional garnish)
- parmesan, pecorino or mozzarella for serving (optional- omit if vegan)
- Wash the eggplants and cut the tops and ends off. Slice them horizontally into rounds, about ¼-inch thick.
- Arrange them flat on a baking sheet and generously sprinkle them with salt. Let them sit for 20 minutes. Dab the moisture out of the rounds with a paper towel or clean cloth and set the eggplant aside.
- Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan, heating it over medium-high heat.
- Add the diced onion and cook for about 5 minutes to soften. Add the minced garlic and cook 30 seconds.
- Pour the entire can of petite diced tomatoes (with juices) and the tomato sauce into the pan. Add the cinnamon and chili flakes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until it is time to use. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Coat the bottom of a large frying pan or cast iron skillet with olive oil to make a thin layer. Heat over medium-high for 1-2 minutes.
- Place the prepared eggplant rounds into the oil, frying each side for 2-3 minutes or until it is slightly browned. The eggplant will soak up the olive oil so add more to the pan for each batch of eggplant. Set the fried eggplant on a plate and repeat until all of the rounds are done.
- In a casserole dish (or using your same cast iron skillet), arrange an even layer of eggplant on the bottom, then top with a layer of tomato sauce, then add another layer of eggplant, continuing until you run out. The very top layer should be a generous amount of sauce.
- Place the eggplant casserole in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and cheese of choice (optional).
- Pat dry each piece of eggplant very well to prevent oil splatter when you set each slice in the pan.
- Season the tomato sauce to taste, adding more salt and pepper or cinnamon and chili flakes as needed.
- If you plan to top the eggplant with cheese, sprinkle it on top before serving or add it to the eggplant casserole during the last 10-15 minutes of bake time.
- This Turkish eggplant casserole will keep in the fridge for up to 7 days.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 213Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 2.4gTrans Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 63mgCarbohydrates: 16gNet Carbohydrates: 9gFiber: 7gSugar: 7gProtein: 3g
This nutritional information is approximate and is provided for convenience as a courtesy.