From the Motherland is a series where I pay homage to my Eastern European heritage and share my favorite childhood recipes. (This article has been updated from its original March 2014 version).
Traditional Russian celebration line-ups always feature the same cast of characters. Without fail, these include Salat Olivier, a mayo-dressed potato salad (among many other mayo salads), red caviar (salmon roe), and this roasted eggplant spread – known in Russian as “baklazhannaya ikra”.
Ikra is the Russian word for caviar. According to the internet, this appetizer used to be known as “poor man’s caviar”, although we’ve never used this term in my family. From my understanding, caviar was relatively affordable in the Soviet Union – if you could find it, that is – and let’s face it, all men were poor.
Terminology aside, this roasted eggplant spread is one of the few Russian/Ukrainian foods that can be considered “light”, since it is made entirely of vegetables and is not stuffed with meat or slathered with mayo – a true rarity in our cuisine. It’s bright, zingy, and packed with fresh summer flavors. You can think of it as a Russian eggplant bruschetta or salsa-esque dip.
How to Make Russian Eggplant Spread
The foundation of this spread is eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes. You start by roasting the eggplants and peppers until they’re soft and their skins are charred and blistered. You can also do this step on a grill or directly over a gas stove.
While those vegetables cool, you peel the tomatoes, since you don’t want bits of tomato skin in the final dish.
Lastly, you puree the vegetables in a food processor and combine them with fresh herbs, onion, and seasonings. In the end, the dip should have a juicy, chunky texture, and a fresh, smoky, acidic taste.
This roasted eggplant spread is best served with fresh bread, but you can also go rogue and eat it with tortilla chips, as a sandwich condiment, or as a topping for grilled things.
This traditional Russian roasted eggplant spread is known as “poor man’s caviar” or “eggplant caviar”. The vegetables may be roasted a day in advance.
- 2 medium eggplants (See Note)
- 2 red bell peppers
- About 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 ripe vine tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons finely diced white or red onion
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley and/or cilantro, plus more to garnish
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar, red wine vinegar, or fresh lemon juice
- 1 medium garlic clove, crushed or grated
- About 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil.
- Using a fork, poke holes in the eggplants at approximately 2-inch intervals. Coat the eggplants and peppers with a few drops of oil and massage to coat evenly.
- Place the vegetables on the prepared baking sheet and roast until blistered, blackened, and mushy, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand, or chill in the refrigerator, until the vegetables are cool enough to handle. (Covering the bowl with plastic traps the steam, making the vegetables easier to peel later.)
- Meanwhile, cut an X shape into the bottoms of the tomatoes, cutting about 1/3 of the way through. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 seconds. (This step makes it easier to peel the tomatoes.) Drain and run the tomatoes under cold water. Peel off the tomato skins and discard. Finely dice the tomatoes and place in a large bowl.
- When cool enough to handle, gently peel the skins off the roasted vegetables and discard, along with the tops. Split open the peppers and discard the ribs and seeds. Gently squeeze the eggplant flesh with your hands and discard the excess liquid.
- Place the eggplants and peppers into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to the bowl with the tomatoes and add the onion, parsley, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Stir to combine.
- Let stand for 15 minutes to let the flavors combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Serve cold or at room temperature. (Leftovers may be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
This dish is best when made with in-season local produce. Source the eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes at a farmers market, if possible.
- Serving Size: 1/2 cup
- Calories: 95
- Fiber: 5.6 g
- Protein: 1.9 g
Keywords: russian, ukrainian, eggplant, spread, salad, eggplant caviar