Traditional Russian holiday tables always feature the same cast of characters. Without fail, these include Olivier salad (a heavily mayo-dressed potato salad), red caviar, and this eggplant “ikra” (pronounced eek-raa). Ikra is technically the Russian word for caviar but according to the interwebs, this roasted eggplant spread served as the “poor man’s caviar”. I don’t really buy this story since caviar was pretty affordable in the Soviet Union – if you could find it, that is – and all men were poor. But hey, who am I to rewrite history?
Terminology aside, this specialty is one of the few Russian foods that can actually be considered light, since it is made entirely of vegetables and is not stuffed with meat or slathered with mayo. I got inspired to make it after discovering it in my sandwich at a recent brunch at Saro Bistro, where it was referred to as “aivar”.
The recipe is pretty labor intensive so it’s probably more fitting to try on a weekend and not a weeknight. I think the spread is best served with slices of fresh baguette, but you can also use it as a dip for tortilla chips, a sandwich condiment, or as a topping for grilled beef or lamb.
- 2 medium eggplants
- 2 red bell peppers
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 vine tomatoes
- 2 cups boiling water
- About 2 tablespoons finely diced yellow onion
- 1 garlic clove, crushed or grated
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro
- Salt + freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 350F. Evenly coat eggplants and peppers with a few drops of olive oil each. Using a fork, poke holes in the eggplants at approximately 2" intervals. Place vegetables on a baking sheet covered with foil and bake until blistered, blackened and mushy, about 40 min.
- Let eggplants and peppers come to room temperature, which may take up to two hours.
- In the meantime, prepare the tomatoes. Cut an X shape into tomatoes, place in a bowl, and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 seconds. Drain hot water and run tomatoes under cold water. Peel off tomato skins and discard. Finely dice tomatoes and place in a colander to drain excess liquid.
- Once cool enough to handle, gently peel the skins and tops off of the roasted vegetables and discard. Split open peppers and discard ribs and seeds. Gently squeeze eggplant flesh with your hands and discard excess liquid.
- Place eggplants and peppers into a food processor and puree on medium-low speed until smooth. Transfer puree into a large bowl and combine with drained tomatoes, onion, garlic, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, parsley and generous pinches of salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve cold or at room temperature.