Thursday, September 9, 2010

eggplant caviar

eggplant caviar

A few things first. One, my friend Tina thinks the name “eggplant caviar” is an abomination and is misleading, but that’s about the only name I know for it. Blasphemy, she said to me, do you see any caviar here? Alas, I do not. She’s, technically, in the right. So this is partially an apology to her – I don’t mean to mislead. Two, there are two schools of eggplant caviar making that I’m aware of insofar as Russian eggplant caviar making goes. Both parties cling to their version as the version, but the weirdo that is me, likes them both equally – they are quite different from one another. And like a mother to two very different children of the same origin, I cannot pick a favorite.

like little hats!

The first is the method my friends from the Ukraine have taught me – which involves baking an eggplant, removing its skin and combining it with a seductive and potent blend of pureed tomato, onion, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper, and stirring a bit of finely minced cilantro. It is simple and addictive, and if you’re a fan of garlic, you can’t go wrong here.


The second is a bit more labor intensive, and hails, at least according to my Uzbekistan-born grandmother, from Central Asia (think former Soviet republics that end in “stan”). It involves slow cooking the eggplant with tomatoes, onion, garlic and red peppers for many hours, until the vegetables combine, disintegrate, fall apart, and grow brown. Their transformation is magical, as things go from acidic, to sweeter, more caramelized, more seductive. While it’s uncommon for brown food to be considered sexy, this dish smolders. If you think you don’t like eggplant, try this and talk to me after. I would be surprised if you didn’t reverse your stance on eggplant.

pretty from the top
looking sadder

Normally eggplant caviar is served during the “zakuski” portion of the meal. For those of you who are not Russian speakers, “zakuski” describes a spread of snacks served at Russian banquets or parties, or in my mother’s case, whenever anyone shows up at the house. Originally, the word stems from the Russian word “kusok” or “kusochik” which means, piece, or little piece. The prefix “za” denotes that you are using these little pieces, or snacks, as a follow up to a drink, a chaser, so to speak. When Russians drink vodka (which they do at most celebratory gatherings), they invariably do it in shots and follow up shots with either a pickle, slice of salami, Russian sauerkraut, a pickled mushroom or a piece of dark, rye bread with something tasty spread over it. Like this eggplant caviar. Zakuski are intense, powerful bursts of flavor designed to quell the burning of alcohol in your mouth.

sad :(
onions tomatoes
cubed peppers

But sometimes you’re not in the mood for a drink (watch the entire Russian clan disown me after this sentence), but what you want is a taste of home, because you miss the food you grew up with. And after you spy eggplant piled high at your favorite farm-stand, you greedily load your bags with the necessary ingredients and then cook the brown mess for hours while you translate your mother’s recipe from Russian, filling in instructions she takes for granted as “given”. And laughing at her description of cooked eggplant as “sad”. If you’ve ever seen a wilted, browned eggplant, you know what she means by that. But invariably, reading that makes me smile.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar

Looks, my dears, caviar it is not. But were I to really choose between actual caviar and this, I would go for this, hands down. Especially if my mother is making it.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar
eggplant caviar

Eggplant Caviar

3 large eggplants
3-4 medium white onions
3 medium carrots, optional
6 medium tomatoes
3 red peppers
3 cloves garlic
olive oil (or best unrefined cottonseed oil, but it’s not healthy for you, so I, personally stick with olive oil)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Halve your eggplant lengthwise and bake, on a parchment covered shallow baking sheet (like a jelly roll) for roughly 40-45 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft when pierced with a fork (my mother’s instructions, and I quote, “until the eggplant looks sad”). Remove from oven and let come to room temperature before removing the skin. Chop the eggplant into cubes and brown in a heavy bottomed pan. Set aside. [Read this: a few tips here. First of all in cutting your cooked eggplant, use a serrated knife. You won’t believe how much easier and faster that cutting process will go for you! Also, and this goes for anything you chop, I like to use a pastry scraper to scoop my chopped vegetables and place them into a bowl. This is especially helpful if you are chopping a lot of vegetables and your cutting board is only so big. Lastly, the parchment paper on which your eggplant baked? Don’t throw it out after baking. After chopping your eggplant, cover the bowl with the parchment paper until you are ready to use your eggplant. See, as LITTLE waste as possible!]

In a heavy bottomed pan like a dutch oven, over medium heat, cook onions, carrots, peppers, and garlic in olive oil, until soft.

Add finely chopped tomatoes to the vegetable mix and saute until the tomatoes start to disintegrate. Then add the browned eggplant.

Simmer the vegetables over the lowest heat possible for 4-6 hours. Longer cooking time aids to developing deeper, more complex flavors.

In the process of cooking periodically stir and taste. Add salt and sugar to your liking as the mass is cooking down.

Serve hot, warm, or cold, depending on the mood and occasion.

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  • 1
    Kasey said:

    LOVE! I grew up eating this stuff. I really enjoy when you share traditional recipes like these!

    September 9, 2010 6:09 pm
  • 2
    Nicole said:

    I would take this over regular caviar, as well. Cannot wait to try this! I like that your mom says to cook until the eggplant is sad, ha, love it.

    September 9, 2010 6:11 pm
  • 3
    Naomi said:

    This reminds me of ajvar, a Bosnian dish, with the eggplant and red pepper roles reversed. I think I’ll have to make this very soon. Are you going to post your grandmother’s recipe as well?

    September 9, 2010 6:21 pm
  • 4
    Radish said:

    Naomi – sorry for the confusion, but this is my grandmother’s recipe! My mother learned it from her! I love ajvar as well!

    September 9, 2010 6:28 pm
  • 5
    Jo said:

    I will make this on the weekend…we have another lil eggplant delacy…dish in our family…maybe I will email u @ Facebook the recipe…very private…Mom is watching!!!
    Shana Tova…to you lovely Olga…and to a year extra special…filled with food and friends… a good vino…or vodka…and some music!!

    September 9, 2010 10:31 pm
  • 6
    Rita said:

    The taste of “dacha”. 8) My Russian grandma was a pro at making this stuff. Thanks for bringing back happy childhood memories..

    September 10, 2010 1:04 am
  • 7
    Megan said:

    Oh, delicious! That looks amazing… it’s giving me visions of eggplant caviar slathered across slices of ciabatta for brunch. I’m starting to wish I hadn’t eaten breakfast…!

    I love the idea that an eggplant is sad while you cook it, because it’s exactly how it begins to look – wilted or collapsed. Of course, I’d like to think that by the time it’s camarelised, that eggplant would be pretty damn happy about its final resting place. ;)

    September 10, 2010 2:25 am
  • 8

    YUM! My parents used to make it often. I should give it a try. My grandparents cooked the eggplant by blackening it straight on the flame of the gas stove. And they added marinated tomatoes, garlic, onions and parsley to it.

    September 10, 2010 9:34 am
  • 9

    Looks delicious! And call it caviar or not, there’s nothing like a taste of home…

    September 10, 2010 12:52 pm
  • 10
    alice said:

    Olga..this looks absolutely fabulous! I am going to buy everything I need to make it this weekend!

    September 10, 2010 4:15 pm
  • 11
    Leslie said:

    The recipe says, put a pot of water on the stove. What for?

    September 10, 2010 9:49 pm
  • 12
    Amerikanka said:

    Have shared similar iterations of this with my family when I visit home (the US) and everyone is always shocked that eggplant can be so good.

    The Turkmen variation on this (just south of your grandmother’s Uzbekistan) is to grill the vegetables rather than roasting them in the oven. You get all of the wonderful sweetness of the veggies but with a bit of smokey flavor to it what is just fabulous…just a tip in case anyone wants to try it that way. I can honestly say it’s one of the only local dishes that I enjoyed the entire time I lived there!

    Oh, and if you want a less caviar-y name, the Turkmen call it “dimok” (dee-MOK). I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if anyone borrowed the name. :o)

    September 11, 2010 5:16 am
  • 13
    Radish said:

    Leslie – it’s a typo, will need to remove.

    September 11, 2010 9:35 am
  • 14

    Yum! My grandmother always went with version number one, so that is how I have always enjoyed it, and I’m a garlic lover, but i love your ‘sad’ eggplant. I may have to try your recipe!

    September 11, 2010 5:14 pm
  • 15
    Amy said:

    This looks really good. I’m always looking for new ways to use eggplant and this looks like a great one to try!

    September 11, 2010 6:54 pm
  • 16
    Irina said:

    I just put up a recipe for this on my (very tiny) blog. We never added heat to ours- except the baked eggplant (which I think I actually described as being done when it is “defeated by life” so maybe this test for done-ness is a Russian thing? lol.
    I want to try it your way, and probably will sometime *very* soon, since eggplant is among the most delicious things in the universe.

    September 12, 2010 4:51 pm
  • 17

    That first stage really looks like that eggplant stew (sote iz baklazhanov) I grew up with in Azerbaijan – I can hardly remember how it’s done anymore. Do you have a recipe?

    My other favorite way to make eggplants is slice, saute, slather with mayo and pressed garlic, and spread on bread.

    September 12, 2010 9:04 pm
  • 18
    Radish said:

    Sofya – what recipe are you looking for? The “Odessa” method?

    September 13, 2010 8:24 am
  • 19
    kickpleat said:

    I can’t say I’m a fan of eggplant, but I’ve tried a couple eggplanty things and liked them. I do like the idea of a smoldering dish!

    September 13, 2010 2:15 pm
  • 20

    This looks just like something my Russian husband’s grandma makes. I can’t wait to make it for him! Do you think the last step could be done in a slow cooker? That way I could leave the house for a little while while the flavors meld together…

    September 14, 2010 3:02 pm
  • 21
    Radish said:

    Katie – I have never made it in a slow-cooker, but I don’t see why not.

    September 14, 2010 3:14 pm
  • 22

    Thanks! If I end up using the slow cooker I’ll post another comment letting you know how it turned out.

    September 14, 2010 3:24 pm
  • 23

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    November 1, 2010 6:12 pm
  • 24

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  • 27
    AnnieCooks said:

    Sad eggplant = happy me!

    August 5, 2011 12:08 pm
  • 28

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    August 7, 2014 10:40 am
  • 29
    Iryna said:

    Great recipes!
    I like how you describe “zakuska”. also an appetizer or tapas, or I love it simply with mashed potatoes or, yes, thick layer on a bread!
    Back home (Ukraine) we made both versions. The first would be referred as “raw” caviar, the second as cooked. I love them both! Though the cooked is always easier to make, I think. With the raw one, as I recall, the baked eggplants must sit for a few hrs under the press, to squeeze out the juices.
    We do use flat leaf parsley, not cilantro. Though I do like cilantro as well!
    We also make “kabachki” or zucchini caviar in the same cooked way. We use the type that here is called Mexican Gray Squash, it has a very light green, tender skin. It will be a pleasant orange color. You do need to mash it or process it. Some do use slow cookers to make them.
    I remember we joked that eggplant or zucchini caviar was a poor’s man caviar! :-)

    December 4, 2016 1:51 am

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