Nothing compares to our childhood food. Our mind recognizes it immediately no matter how old we are and brings back our sweetest memories. This recipe is Elena’s family recipe, from Odessa region. At first, I felt frustrated I don’t know English better to translate her story properly. But then, is it really possible not to loose in translation the beauty of Odessa flavorful way of storytelling?
There are only two main ingredients in this vegetable caviar, and it is very important to choose the best of them. Originally, the best eggplants for this recipe are what we know in the U.S. as Mediterranean (or Italian) eggplants, but they have to be small and fresh — with bright green stem, deep purple in color, with nice sheen, and firm to touch. The second important ingredient are tomatoes. For this recipe, we need thickly fleshed heirloom Beefsteak varieties with nicely balanced sweet and sour flavor. See Elena’s instructional pictures how to prep tomatoes — cut in half and grate until only skin is left in your fingers. If no good fresh tomatoes are available, use Italian or Greek canned ones, peeled and crushed. The volume ratio of mashed eggplant to grated tomatoes is about 2:1, but feel free to adjust it to your taste.
It is very important to season this spread properly bringing up natural flavors of smoky sweet eggplant and delicately acidic tomato. Salt, black pepper, and fresh garlic are a must. In Ukraine, extra virgin unfiltered sunflower oil is also a must, but it is not available in the U.S. Organic French EV sunflower oil (available at WholeFoods) comes close and can be used to substitute it. Often, I don’t add any oil at all.
There are also optional ingredients added to the spread. They are unique in every family and adjust the final flavor to personal tastes. Charred and peeled sweet peppers are often in the list, as well as some hot chili peppers in very moderate amounts. Among herbs, parsley and cilantro are the most popular. I added some of my fermented peppers sauce and it was good.
I tried replacing eggplants with zucchini — perfect! Just don’t be shy and grill them until completely soft and with charred skin.
Appetizer? Yes. Serve it in a bowl with pita chips, toasted bread slices, or simply good fresh bread. My childhood favorite way of snacking it was on a slice of rye bread with a thin layer of mayo.
Side dish? Definitely yes. Serve it with roasted, grilled, stewed, slowly cooked, smoked meat or poultry, cold or hot.
Breakfast? Absolutely. Soft layered biscuits or English muffins sliced in half and toasted, generous heap of eggplant spread, and warm poached egg with smoked salt on top — doesn’t it sound good?
Condiment? You’d be surprised! Mix 1/4 cup of this caviar into a pound of lean ground beef and you’ll get amazingly delicious and juicy burgers.