Here’s that famous button that takes you straight to the recipe, in case you don’t care about how my mom got crazy for this caviar. Oh! And before you run to the recipe or away from it, even if you don’t like eggplants I ask you, please, give it a chance…
This versatile spread makes me think back to the last vacation I spent in Brazil, at my parents’ house. If you’ve been here before, you might already know that I share the kitchen as a natural habitat with my mother, so, one can only imagine the joy that it is for me to spend the day cooking with her. That’s the reason why, while I was planning my days “at home” I would always say things like “we’ll cook this…’; ‘I’ll bake that…’; ‘I can’t wait for you to make me this…’; ‘I must show you this other thing I invented…’.
Finally, a few days prior to my arrival, my mom and I made a simple shopping list so I would be able to fix myself a quick lunch before we would go have fun together at the groceries shop. I had already an appointment to get my nails done – priorities, my friends – and I wanted something fast and simple because between airplane food and the jet lag I would be starving. On my list, besides one of my favorite cheeses, pumpkin and banana, I added eggplant e a few other things in order to make this eggplant caviar, or, as the French say… “caviar d’aubergine”. Fancy, huh?
This recipe entered my life when I started wanting to attempt making some homemade babaganush, that levantine spread. The only problem is that in order to make some, all you have to do is smoke the eggplant. I love the Mediterranean cuisine, but I must admit that the very thought of cleaning my stove after toasting a vegetable on an open flame would get me exhausted. I like experimenting, but I also like simple practical things. And that’s when I thought… what if I could attempt a fake babaganush where I would bake the eggplant instead of letting it spread ashes all over my stove?
It took me a few attempts and some adaptations to get to this not at all ultimate version that I’m sharing with you.
Let’s get back to that vacation at my mom’s… when I got home, I took a shower and went quickly downstairs for I was almost late for my nail appointment. We sliced the eggplant and a couple of other veggies, I place them all in a baking tray and threw it on the oven. I said: “mom, keep an eye on it. I think that, in your oven, it’ll be done in about 30 minutes. When the eggplant is soft you can turn it off.” And I run out of the house.
An hour later, when I got back home, my mom was standing there with those baked veggies, finding everything to be quite dry, and wondering what would I be able to do to rescue them. A few spices and a mixer (or blender) later, in less than five minutes, the spread was ready. This recipe turned out to be one of the head leaders of my trip. In it’s many versions, we took them for the afternoon snack at grandma’s, for the dinner at my God mother’s, we made to welcome my aunties at home and also just for me and mom.
Well, enough chit chat. Let’s get to the step by step ‘cause I’m getting hungry thinking about the jar I left for my flat-mate at our fridge back home.
Eggplant caviar (or a fake babaganush)
1 large eggplant
1 very medium onion (almost large)
2 bell peppers (I like mixing red and yellow) – optional*
¼ cup of fresh mint
Juice of one lemon
Salt, black pepper (or Syrian pepper), cumin
½ table spoon of olive oil
- Slice in half the eggplant, the tomatoes (you don’t need to take the seeds of), the bell peppers (here you can take the seeds of) and the onion. Cover a baking tray with foil paper and place the veggies on it. Eggplant facing down and tomatoes facing up. The rest you do as you please.
* The original recipe of the babaganush won’t take bell peppers (nor tomato or so, for that matter) but as I said, here we’re making a version that’s faker than a 2$ bill, so, everything’s fine. I say the bell peppers are optional because I know they can be quite controversial and I don’t want you to miss out on it because of a technicality. Some love it, some hate it, some can’t digest it. If you’re not into it, just don’t add them, but if you like them, just go for it.
- Bring everyone to a pre-heated oven to 200°C for about 30 minutes. Here’s that old story that it’ll vary from one oven to the other. Mine takes 35 to 40 minutes. My mom owns the Ferrari of ovens so, it took less than 30 minutes. The important thing is for you to feel that the eggplant is soft (go ahead and stick a fork in it). She’ll set the time in the oven.
- When it’s ready, you can take it out of the oven and, in case you want to “peel” the eggplant, I advise you to wait a couple of minutes for it to cool down a bit so you won’t burn your hands. I’ll explain. I play for the team that’ll go crazy for the eggplant peel. I find it quite yummy, but if you don’t feel like it or if you’re going for a smoother paste you can scoop the chair with a spoon and discard the peel (or save it to use in some other recipe… you can cut it and throw it on our super easy microwave omelet, for example).
- Toss all the ingredients on a big bowl, add the lemon juice and the mint leaves (no need for chopping) and blend it with a hand mixer. If you don’t own a mixer, you can do it in a regular blender, just be careful not go full speed on it, so you can control the final result. The idea here is to obtain a creamy, silky paste, but, everyone’s entitled to their preferences (and I like them all). You can have it thicker, smoother, chunky… You’re in charge.
Remember when I asked you to release yourself to your prejudices in case you’re not an eggplant lover? Well, here the eggplant is the responsible for allowing us to have a creamy spread without adding a gallon of oil.
- Once you have your cream ready it’s the moment of joy. Trust me. These spices are special and they make all the difference on the dish. Of course, that, if you don’t have cumin at home, it’s not a big deal, but, next time you go to the store, if you’re feeling adventurous, I strongly recommend you get some. Season it with salt, pepper (fresh grated is even better) and cumin (to taste). If you’re not used to cumin, go easy on it. Add little by little and try it. It’s a strong spice, but, as I said, makes all the difference. Is the cherry on top of the cake (or, in this case, the cumin on the babaganush).
THAT’S IT! YOU’RE DONE! No, I did not forget the olive oil. I throw ½ table spoon of it when it’s ready to be served. You can also save some fresh mint leaves to finish it or just sprinkle a bit of parsley.
You can keep it on the fridge for about a week in a sealed jar. That means that you can make a lot of it and you’ll have it in hand. It’s great with bread, or you can have it as a side dish for grilled chicken or fish. I use it to top that crusty flourless pie we already made here. My favorite way of having it it, of course, with baked falafel and feta cheese.
I just think you should go ahead and try this caviar, spread, babaganush or whatever you may wish to call it. It’s so simple, versatile and tasty that’s almost hard to believe it’ll work. But I DO promise it will!