Eggplant caviar has a great ring to it. Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook, serves it with fresh Italian basil leaves and feta cheese for an herby appetizer. She says you can make this dish with Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, or Middle Eastern flavors depending on your preference.
Israeli/Middle Eastern Eggplant Caviar Wraps
(Makes about 2 cups eggplant caviar)
This isn’t baba ganoush. This is a light, finely chopped eggplant “caviar” appetizer made from the basic roasted eggplant recipe that follows. Because eggplant is so versatile and appears in so many cuisines, the caviar can be seasoned in many different ways—Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, or Middle Eastern—depending on which herbs you pick from your garden or the farmers’ market. This week, I’m in the mood for Israeli flavors—lots of lemon, garlic, cilantro and mint (parsley and oregano qualify too!) For an added flavor layer, I serve this spread with a pile of large basil leaves to make bite-size wraps. You can use other types of basil, sorrel, lettuce, or radicchio leaves. I added feta cheese for one more level of complexity, but I’ll leave that up to you. With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, coming very early (September 4!), this makes a terrific appetizer for a festive holiday meal.
2 medium globe eggplants, about 1 pound each
3 or 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and cut in slivers
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
1 to 2 lemons
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped mint and cilantro, or oregano, or parsley
24 to 30 medium or large basil leaves, or other small wrapping green, such as lettuce, sorrel, or radicchio
Feta cheese, optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut eggplants crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Make 2 parallel slits about 1-inch long in the center of each slice. Insert 1 garlic sliver into each slit and season with salt. Slather oil in the bottom of large baking pan(s). Place eggplant slices snugly in pan(s) (a little overlapping is okay), turning each slice to coat with the oil. Roast until soft and bottom sides are browned, about 30 minutes. Use a spatula to turn slices and roast until quite tender, about 10 minutes more. Serve as is, seasoned to taste, or proceed on to the caviar.
Pile eggplant in a bowl to steam. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon into empty pan and scrape up any drippings and brown bits and add to bowl. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, chop it finely and place in a serving bowl along with the chopped cilantro and mint. Season with additional lemon, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
If there’s time, allow to stand for 1 hour before serving to let flavors blend. Taste and add lemon, pepper, or salt as desired. May be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature to serve.
Serve with a mound of whole basil leaves and chunks of feta cheese, if desired. Place about 2 teaspoons of caviar on basil leaf, wrap, and pop into your mouth.
© 2013, Amelia Saltsman.