Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Eggplant Relish, or Poor Man's Caviar

Anyone with vegetable gardening experience will readily grasp the "poor man's caviar" concept as applied to eggplant. A madly prolific vegetable, a couple of eggplant bushes are capable of overwhelming the home gardener with quantities of large shiny purple fruits, enough to nourish an entire family for weeks on end. The saving grace of eggplant is its adaptability to a multitude of cooking techniques which bring out its subtle rich flavor.

Eggplant recipes are ubiquitous throughout the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe and Asia. This recipe is a contemporary iteration of a treasured family favorite handed down by my Eastern European forebears. Always referred to as "poor man's caviar", it was traditionally eaten with a chunk of the weighty, dark sour rye bread which exists now only in the mists of memory.

It's best to make the relish ahead of time since allowing the mixture to rest overnight or for at least five or six hours greatly enhances the flavor. If you're looking for a little something special to serve with latkes this year, double the recipe and share with friends.

Eggplant Relish ~ Poor Man's Caviar:

1 large eggplant, thinly sliced into strips
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 + tablespoons olive oil
1 cup leek, very thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large sweet red pepper, diced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 + tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Place eggplant strips in a colander over a bowl or in sink and sprinkle with salt. Toss well to distribute the salt and allow to rest for 5 - 10 minutes.
With clean hands, take a handful of eggplant and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Repeat until all strips are done. (Removing the liquid makes it easier to sautee the eggplant, and with less oil.)
Place eggplant strips on cutting board and dice into very small pieces.
Heat olive oil over a high flame in a heavy frying pan; add some of the eggplant and allow it to scorch a bit as it cooks; continue to stir and add more eggplant in stages.
When eggplant is tender but not mushy, remove from pan and set aside.
Saute leek, celery and red pepper in olive oil until fragrant; turn off heat.
Return eggplant to frying pan and using a wooden spoon, mash mixture to desired consistency.
Add parsley leaves and lemon juice, toss well, taste and adjust seasoning.
Store in a clean glass jar in fridge for several days.
Serve as a relish with other vegetables or salads; great as a snack or spread.