The Lazy Cook's Guide to Eggplant Caviar
Eggplant caviar (baklazhanaya ikra) is a delicious vegetarian dish from Central Asia that is also popular in Russia.
My version of this classic dish is adapted from a recipe in Afghan Food and Cookery, by Helen Saberi, with input from my Tajik husband, who calls it by its Russian name.
In the original version, the eggplant is cut into rounds and layered with the other vegetables and spices, but I found dicing them and throwing everything together in a jumble is easier and tastes just as good.
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Tajiks like to use a lot of oil, and this dish is quite rich as a result. If this is a problem for you, you can replace some of the oil with water. I've also made it using canned diced tomatoes when I didn't have fresh tomatoes and that works fine too. Don't drain them first, the juice adds to the flavor just as juice from fresh tomatoes does.
- 1 medium or large eggplant
- about 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1-2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, diced or crushed
- crushed red pepper to taste
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- plain yogurt
Peel the eggplant and dice into small cubes. Salt and let sit about 30 minutes while you go do something else. Today, I am writing this hub!
When the 30 minutes are up, prepare the other vegetables,except the tomatoes, which I like to cut up directly over the pan to save all the juices.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until soft.
Rinse and drain the eggplant cubes, then add them to the pan with the garlic and pepper. Saute them for a minute, then cut up the tomatoes and add them to the pan, stirring occasionally as you go. Add the crushed red pepper, salt, and freshly ground black pepper and saute for a couple more minutes. When the juices are bubbling merrily, cover the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and set the timer for 40 minutes. (If necessary, add a couple tablespoons of water to increase the juices.)
Stir occasionally to make sure the vegetables aren't sticking to the bottom. If they are, lower the heat further and/or add a little more water.
When the eggplant is soft and falling apart under your spoon, the ikra is ready.
Serve warm with plenty of plain yogurt and bread or rice to mop up the juices. You can also serve it cold as a topping or dip for bread or pita.
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