Thursday, June 2, 2011

Russian Eggplant Spread

All photos except the last in this post by Tari Owi

One of my co-workers, Boris, has the most amazing garden in his backyard.  In the summertime, he brings us the most best tomatoes and pickles I've ever had.  I was very upset to hear that he might not be able to make pickles this year because his crop isn't big enough. Still, we're eagerly awaiting the rest of his bounty.

Other than his amazing pickles, the best thing he ever made was for our International Potluck Lunch last summer.  We had colleagues who work in our office in India visiting, so as a way to coerce them to cook Indian food for us (which was INCREDIBLE by the way) we all made our favorite dishes from our ethnic backgrounds.  Fortunately, our office is very diverse.

Boris is from Russia (in case his name didn't give it away), and for the Potluck he made a Russian Eggplant Spread with fresh ingredients from his garden.  Apparently it is a common dish that many people of Russian descent can throw together without a recipe. It was one of the best things at the lunch and we haven't stopped talking about it since!

This week, for my other coworker's baby shower, my friend Tari offered to try to replicate the eggplant spread.  She also offered to take pictures so share with all of you - so please thank her very much!

(You'll have to stay tuned to see what I made!)

She also asked me to share a few comments with you about the preparation and history of the dish:
This is a delicious spread for bread and parties but one can get creative with how its served. There's a similar indian dish, Baingan Bharta, (actually where I got the idea to grill the eggplant first) that serves this spread with naan or over rice. Eggplants are also great with other cuisines - italian seasoning, curry, even greek yogurt may go well on this! 

This spread was AMAZING. We ate it on pita chips and pretzel chips, but when Boris made it we ate it on bread.  Either way it was so fantastic. The extra spice Tari added with the red pepper flakes really made it, but you know how much I love red pepper flakes.  It's spicy and hearty, with a spreadable texture.  This would be a great spread to bring to a BBQ this summer!

Russian Eggplant Spread
Slightly adapted from Ashbury's Aubergines

(adaptations and comments from Tari Owi)
note: the recipe below was doubled in these images

eggplant, (about 1 pound)
1 green pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
1/8 tablespoon pepper
1 teaspoon of red chili pepper flakes (optional)
¼ cup of vegetable oil
2 chopped medium tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup tomato paste
French bread

1. Preheat oven to 400F.

2. Pierce eggplant 3 or 4 times with fork and grill for about 6 minutes (rotating the eggplant every 2 minutes to get an even smoky flavor - grilling it isnt necessary but the smoky flavor adds to the dish especially with the pepper flakes.)

3. Wrap green pepper in foil and place peppers and eggplant in shallow baking dish. Bake in shallow dish for about 35-40 minutes until eggplant is very soft (skin should look easy to peel off). Set aside until cool enough to handle (about 10 minutes). Remove skin from eggplant and seeds from green pepper. (Eggplant seeds can be odd for those not used to cooking with eggplant but they are left in, pepper seeds however should not be!)

4. Heat oil in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until onion is tender. 

5. Chop eggplant, green pepper, and tomatoes. Add to onion and garlic. (Boris recommended using real tomatoes instead of tomato paste. I think it makes all the difference. However, if there are no fresh tomatoes around or seemingly not enough to balance the dish then definitely increase the amount of paste/diced tomatoes)

6. Add the remaining ingredients (except bread) and heat to boiling.

7. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. (You could skip boiling for cooking in the Crockpot on high for 1-2 hours so you don't have to stand over the stove forever.)

8. Place mixture in blender container (or use an immersion blender in the pot). Cover and blend on high speed for about 1 minute, stop blender half way to scrape spread down sides. Taste the dish after the first blend. (I noticed it needed more salt and then had the idea to add chili peppers for a kick! It improved significantly afterwards.)

9. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours. Serve with bread.

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