Every summer our love affair with eggplant is renewed. Grown in backyard gardens and sold at vegetable stands all over the world, eggplants come in various sizes, shapes and colours. Bake them, stuff them, fry them, grill them, or even make sweet preserves out of them (yes, very small eggplants can be turned into a spoon sweet, a type of Greek dessert). One of the most popular ways for Greeks to cook eggplants is to turn them into this luscious salad. It's served as an accompaniment for drinks or as a starter to a meal. You can spread it on a piece of bread or eat it plain. Either way, it is a heavenly summer treat. Its texture is that of a spread or a dip, but Greeks simply refer to it as a salad.
There are two types of eggplant salad: One is really smooth and is made with grilled or roasted eggplant which is pureed with just some olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and a touch of garlic. The other type, the one I prefer, is country-style rustic and chunky. Its ingredients depend on regional interpretations. For example, southern Greece produces a tremendous amount of tomatoes, therefore tomatoes tend to be added to just about anything, including eggplant salad. In Macedonia, where peppers are really plentiful, roasted peppers are added, and in Thrace, folks like to add walnuts. You could say that just about every Greek cook has his or her own version of this salad. Being descended from Macedonian and Thracian stock, I add peppers and walnuts. That's how my grandmother made eggplant salad, and I follow suit.
The key to making a great tasting eggplant salad is to get fresh off the farm eggplants. Not long ago I bought some from the supermarket; they wound up tasting like cardboard. This time around I drove the two extra miles to a wonderful farm stand and there I found some really cute, and as it turned out great tasting minuature eggplants. They were turned into a delicious salad. Here's the recipe:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 shallot or the half of a small onion
1 small clove of garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 Italian frying peppers or 1 large sweet pepper 2 tablespoons walnuts to make walnut butter
1 tablespoon well crumbled feta cheese
5 or six baby eggplants
Prick the eggplants with a fork, set them on a baking sheet and roast them in a 400°F /200°C oven until the skins are wrinkled and the eggplants have collapsed. This should take about 40 minutes.
During the last half hour place the peppers in the oven and let them roast.
Remove the eggplants and peppers from the oven and allow them to cool until they are safe to handle. Peel the skin from the peppers and remove the seeds.
Slice the eggplants down the middle and remove their flesh. Chop it up, chop up the peppers too, and place everything in a large bowl.
Chop the onion and garlic and throw that in the bowl as well.
Add the parsley, oregano and crumbled feta.
Place the walnuts in a food processor and grind them until they are smooth and begin to release their oils. That's the walnut butter. Add it to the rest of the ingredients. If you don't want to go to all the trouble of making walnut butter, just chop the walnuts really well and use them that way. I alternate between the two methods, depending on my mood. If I feel that I'll enjoy washing the food processor, I'll make walnut butter. If I want to stay away from suds, I just chop up the walnuts, and that's that!
Now add the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients well. You may need to play around with the amount of oil you're going to use. Sometimes eggplants want just a bit more oil, sometimes they don't.
I hope you love this recipe. The salad will keep covered in the refrigerator for about three or four days. But the longer it hangs around, the more potent the taste of garlic becomes (keep that in mind when you are adding garlic to it). If you're having company, the eggplant salad will be polished off, no worries!