Posts tagged eggplant
Thursday, September 9, 2010

eggplant caviar

eggplant caviar

A few things first. One, my friend Tina thinks the name “eggplant caviar” is an abomination and is misleading, but that’s about the only name I know for it. Blasphemy, she said to me, do you see any caviar here? Alas, I do not. She’s, technically, in the right. So this is partially an apology to her – I don’t mean to mislead. Two, there are two schools of eggplant caviar making that I’m aware of insofar as Russian eggplant caviar making goes. Both parties cling to their version as the version, but the weirdo that is me, likes them both equally – they are quite different from one another. And like a mother to two very different children of the same origin, I cannot pick a favorite.

like little hats!

The first is the method my friends from the Ukraine have taught me – which involves baking an eggplant, removing its skin and combining it with a seductive and potent blend of pureed tomato, onion, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper, and stirring a bit of finely minced cilantro. It is simple and addictive, and if you’re a fan of garlic, you can’t go wrong here.

halved!

The second is a bit more labor intensive, and hails, at least according to my Uzbekistan-born grandmother, from Central Asia (think former Soviet republics that end in “stan”). It involves slow cooking the eggplant with tomatoes, onion, garlic and red peppers for many hours, until the vegetables combine, disintegrate, fall apart, and grow brown. Their transformation is magical, as things go from acidic, to sweeter, more caramelized, more seductive. While it’s uncommon for brown food to be considered sexy, this dish smolders. If you think you don’t like eggplant, try this and talk to me after. I would be surprised if you didn’t reverse your stance on eggplant.

pretty from the top
looking sadder

Normally eggplant caviar is served during the “zakuski” portion of the meal. For those of you who are not Russian speakers, “zakuski” describes a spread of snacks served at Russian banquets or parties, or in my mother’s case, whenever anyone shows up at the house. Originally, the word stems from the Russian word “kusok” or “kusochik” which means, piece, or little piece. The prefix “za” denotes that you are using these little pieces, or snacks, as a follow up to a drink, a chaser, so to speak. When Russians drink vodka (which they do at most celebratory gatherings), they invariably do it in shots and follow up shots with either a pickle, slice of salami, Russian sauerkraut, a pickled mushroom or a piece of dark, rye bread with something tasty spread over it. Like this eggplant caviar. Zakuski are intense, powerful bursts of flavor designed to quell the burning of alcohol in your mouth.

sad :(
onions tomatoes
cubed peppers

But sometimes you’re not in the mood for a drink (watch the entire Russian clan disown me after this sentence), but what you want is a taste of home, because you miss the food you grew up with. And after you spy eggplant piled high at your favorite farm-stand, you greedily load your bags with the necessary ingredients and then cook the brown mess for hours while you translate your mother’s recipe from Russian, filling in instructions she takes for granted as “given”. And laughing at her description of cooked eggplant as “sad”. If you’ve ever seen a wilted, browned eggplant, you know what she means by that. But invariably, reading that makes me smile.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar

Looks, my dears, caviar it is not. But were I to really choose between actual caviar and this, I would go for this, hands down. Especially if my mother is making it.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar
eggplant caviar

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

I got so excited cooking this, that I almost completely forgot to take the prep pictures. Which should tell you that you should, if you’re an eggplant fan, go ahead and make this right away. Consider it a direct missive. Waste no time – it is eggplant season and will be such through October.

This was borne out of, well, instinct, really. I was making dinner for a friend on Friday night and our initial plan was to make a stir-fry with vegetables and tofu and serve it over brown rice. But we got carried away – we made that along with leek confit, blackberry pie, and this pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant. What started out as a simple Friday night meal turned into a feast of sorts. And this was the surprise hit.

I wasn’t prepared to cook eggplant and when my friend picked it up, I automatically nodded, but did I have a plan? No.

In fact, I was all shades of disappointment with myself because I didn’t have pie crust waiting for me in the freezer, as I normally do, because I happen to get crazy last-minute urges to bake pies. Then again, it’s safe to say that I happen to have an abnormal love of pie. In fact, I have pies I’ve recently made lined up in the queue that I need to write about and I’m embarrassingly behind.

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

In any case, when I was amidst baking the pie (with pre-made crust, see I’m not above it!), prepping the stir-fry, and caramelizing leeks, I suddenly had an idea; I was going to bake the eggplant in an olive oil and pomegranate molasses glaze. I was going to add a spoonful of chopped ginger, a clove of garlic and a sprinkle of salt. And then, I was going to let it cook until the eggplant would get soft and impossibly buttery. That, was my plan and that’s what I stuck with.

I was a bit worried because, the whole dish was concocted in mere seconds. I had a flash of inspiration, but I had no idea what the results were going to be. But after my friend ate the near entirety of the dish, while I managed to only get a couple of forkfuls, I knew this improvisation was a hit. I loved my forkfuls and clearly, so did he.

The next day, I got to thinking about how sometimes when we improvise in the kitchen – we succeed. And other times – we fail. Both are good and necessary processes by which we learn, and yet somehow we get burned and scarred by our failures. My first-ever pie crust, an epic fail, caused me to avoid making my own crust for years. But once I got to do it again, I haven’t looked back since. Time and time again, I have to remind myself that should one of the dishes fail, all we have to do is move on, try it again and just realize that sometimes, our tempered eggs will cook, our soufflés might not rise, our cakes might sink.

The worst thing – is that we try it all over again. And if that gets us back into the kitchen, is that really quite so bad?

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