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Escalivada is a warm vegetable dish native to the Catalan region of Spain, but popular throughout many parts of the world. Its primary ingredients are eggplant, tomato, and bell pepper, though onion and potato are also common additions. The vegetables are traditionally grilled whole, often directly over hot embers, then peeled, seeded, seasoned, and served. They are typically presented as appetizers or side dishes, particularly alongside grilled or roasted meats.
The word “escalivada” is derived from the Catalan verb escalivar, which is commonly translated as “to roast over embers” or “to roast in ashes.” Farmers who tend flocks high in the Pyrenees mountains, in the southeast corner of Spain, are widely believed to be the dish's pioneers. In the morning, the farmers would pack whole vegetables into their sacks, often from family gardens or farms. Once the sheep, goats, and other livestock had been set to pasture, the farmers would light a fire, roast the vegetables, and create a quick meal. Food transportation has become more sophisticated over the years, though some Catalan natives still prepare the dish this way.
Escalivada is almost always considered an eggplant dish, since eggplants are usually one of the staple escalivada ingredients. The purple vegetables grow particularly well in the Catalan region and feature heavily in Catalan cuisine, but are not essential to this dish. Cooks often innovate with their preparations, often including only those vegetables which are readily available or personally pleasing. Preparation style is usually more important than specific ingredients.
Roasting vegetables whole is still the most traditional way to make escalivada, though placing them directly in a fire is not always the only method. Barbecue grills and even home ovens are often equally effective. The main goal is to expose the outer skin to high heat, often charring the exterior slightly to ensure that the insides become tender.
Precise roast time depends on the size of the vegetables as well as the intensity of the heat. Most of the time, roasting takes about an hour. Cooks can tell that the vegetables are done when they darken in color, start to shrivel, and are tender to the touch.
Peeling and seeding the cooked produce is the next step. Ideally, the flesh should be removed from the skin while it is still warm. Cooks usually remove seeds with a spoon or small knife, then cut the remaining pieces into strips or small cubes. All are combined in a serving dish, generally seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any herbs that are available.
Escalivada is typically served as a warm salad. It can stand on its own as a small meal or appetizer, but it is more commonly served as a side dish. A variety of grilled and roasted meat are often served atop escalivada. The smokiness of the vegetables pairs well with meats prepared in a similar way, while adding complementary tastes and textures.