This dish is also known as eggplant caviar, Ensalada de Berenjena a la Grega (the Ladino name for the Greek version) and Patlican Salatasi (in Turkish). I have found similar recipes for this garlicky dip or spread among Greek, Turkish and Israeli Jews. For me, it all started with my little (under five feet tall) Russian grandmother, Gussie Fleishman. As a Sephardic–Ashkenazic mixed home, both culinary traditions influenced my family food. Under my grandmother’s supervision, I made this dip as a child using our large wooden chopping bowl with the very sharp red-handled chopper, the same way we made haroset at Passover. My grandmother ate it thickly shmeared on dark rye bread. I have since discovered that my Russian grandmother’s recipe is surprisingly similar to various Sephardic versions, with the only difference being the use of vinegar in the Ashkenazic version or lemon in the Sephardic. Just tasting it takes me on a nostalgic journey back through the decades to the small kitchen with my grandmother and that wooden chopping bowl. These days, I usually serve it as a dip with cut-up bell peppers, cucumber slices, endive and pita or pita chips.
- 2 medium to large eggplants (will yield about 2½–3 cups cooked)
- 2–3 tablespoons good olive or nut oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or wine vinegar or to taste
- 1–2 small cloves garlic, crushed
- Freshly ground pepper
- 15–20 cherry tomatoes (optional)
- Chopped parsley (optional)
- Poke a couple very small holes in the neck and large end of the eggplant. Roasting the eggplant over an open flame the traditional way is a bit messy, but gives the dish an especially unique smoky flavor. To do this, coat the eggplants lightly with about a teaspoon of the oil, then set each on top of a burner over a gas flame. Turn them carefully and often with a tongs until completely blackened and soft. Alternatively, the eggplants can be placed on a pan under a broiler or grilled outside, until the skin is shriveled and brown. With all of these methods, remember to keep turning the eggplants to get them evenly cooked.
- When cool enough to handle, pull off as much blackened skin as you can. Working on a large cutting board, slice open each eggplant. Let liquid drain and remove any large clumps of seeds that you can without losing soft flesh. Roughly mash or chop the flesh, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and set in a colander or strainer for a few minutes. More liquid will drain off.
- Put the eggplant pulp in a bowl. Mash or chop it well to desired consistency. (Traditionally, this is done using a wooden spoon. I like a finer texture, so I chop it well.) Add oil, lemon juice or vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Blend very well.
- Serve as a dip for veggies or pita, as a spread on small rounds of fresh bread or as stuffing for cherry tomatoes. To prepare tomatoes, slice off the top of each and, using a small melon baller or the tip of a paring knife, carefully scoop out inside including seeds. Fill with eggplant. Put on serving dish and sprinkle with chopped parsley.