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Eggplant caviar, also known as poor man’s caviar, is an appetizer with a Russian pedigree that makes a perfect premeal spread for toasted pita bread triangles or smeared onto good-quality, very fresh rye bread. This method of cooking eggplant can also become a hot side dish or main meal. It’s perfect as a topping for quinoa, rice, or another grain, especially with a dollop of sour cream. Eggplant caviar does a nice job of dressing up other veggies, such as new potatoes cooked in their jackets or steamed green beans.
There are a thousand ways to make eggplant caviar. While most eggplant recipes begin with slicing or dicing the eggplant, covering it with salt, and weighing it with a heavy saucepan until the bitter juice has been squeezed out, this step isn’t necessary when preparing eggplant caviar. There are two approaches to creating this tasty, premeal yummy. Folks who like a char to their veggies begin by roasting the whole, uncut eggplant over an open flame until the purple skin has turned black. Those who prefer a more delicate flavor skip this initial step and go straight to the oven.
After rubbing olive oil on the eggplant’s skin and sticking it deep into the meat a dozen times or more to allow the high interior moisture to escape, the eggplant needs to bake at a fairly high temperature until its firm, rounded form actually collapses. The interior of the eggplant will be very hot, so it must be set aside to cool. Once it’s cool enough to handle, the peel can be discarded and the interior, which has cooked to a satiny finish, roughly chopped.
Some cooks prefer elegant, simple eggplant caviar, while others like to try out different twists of flavor or texture. Eggplant is notorious for its spongelike ability to absorb as much oil as the cook allows. Some recipes call for sautéing the chopped eggplant pulp in lots of olive oil with onions, garlic, and green or red peppers. Tomato paste or canned diced tomatoes can be added to this version. This approach creates wonderfully fragrant and flavorful eggplant caviar, but it’s very high in fat.
An alternative is to forgo the eggplant sauté. Instead, a few shallots or scallions and several cloves of garlic that have been finely chopped and briefly marinated in balsamic vinegar are added to the cooled eggplant pulp. This time, the cook adds olive oil, preferably first cold pressed, to create a satisfying tongue feel and layer in the flavors. Chopped cilantro, basil, and parsley, or all three add a high note to the dish.