Eggplant lovers, unite! This deliciousness, known as Eggplant Caviar, from the heart of the Caucasus, will leave your wanting more and more of it after first try, because it is one of the best eggplant dishes on Earth, I dare say. It is essentially a spread, made with roasted eggplants, onions, and sometimes with tomatoes and peppers added to it (in some variations, it is just eggplants).
“Caviar from eggplant? Wait, isn’t caviar the roe of sturgeon?,” you may righteously ask. True, the real caviar does come from the sturgeon of the Caspian Sea. But because the delicacy comes with a hefty price that not everyone can afford, eggplant caviar, or “a poor man’s caviar” was born at one point in time in history. Just like with the sturgeon caviar, you would spread the eggplant caviar on a slice of bread and enjoy, plus, eggplant, too, has roe-like seeds, so, these may have contributed to the etymology of the dish, with “caviar” in the name.
When was eggplant caviar born? Unknown. Where? Believed to be somewhere in the Caucasus where eggplants are plentiful and are used in a myriad of dishes. Where exactly in the Caucasus? Undocumented, too, although many sources claim the dish to be of Georgian origin. However, it is just as widely known in the neighboring Azerbaijan, too (which is by the Caspian Sea from where the real caviar comes), so go figure.
I am not claiming anything. Let’s just say eggplant caviar is the true Caucasian dish, which currently spans lands beyond its birthplace. Because it is terrific. During the Soviet Union times (of which I was a part for 13 years), it was unanimously adored across the vast empire, with as many variations as there were republics in it (15!).
This is eggplant caviar prepared the way I’ve known it, or the Azerbaijani way. In this recipe from my cookbook, Pomegranates & Saffron: A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, eggplant caviar gets its delectable flavor from roasted eggplant and peppers, juicy tomatoes, and sweet onions, slowly simmered into a silky smooth dip. Often, eggplant caviar is made in large quantities, packed into jars, sealed tightly, and stored for winter.
Best way to eat eggplant caviar? Slather it on a slice of bread to form an open sandwich and enjoy as a quick snack. So good! Eggplant caviar forever!
- 8 medium dark-skinned eggplants, such as Italian (about 2 pounds)
- 1 medium young green bell pepper or sweet banana pepper
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped (2 cups)
- Ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- Rinse and pat dry the eggplants and pepper. Char them directly over the gas flame of your stove or speared onto skewers over hot coals. The skins should be completely charred.
- When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Seed the pepper. Finely chop the flesh of the eggplants and pepper. Set aside.
- In a medium frying pan, heat half of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not brown, 7 to 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid has somewhat evaporated, about 5 minutes.
- Add the eggplant and pepper and the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the excess moisture has evaporated and the mixture is smooth, about 40 minutes.
- About 5 minutes before you remove the pan from the heat, add the vinegar and stir.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Scoop the caviar into a bowl or jar. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight before serving. The longer the caviar stays in the refrigerator, the better the flavor will be.