From the Motherland is a series in which I pay homage to my Eastern European heritage and share my favorite childhood recipes.
Traditional Russian holiday tables always feature the same cast of characters. Without fail, these include Salat Olivier (a mayo-dressed potato salad), red caviar (salmon roe), and this roasted eggplant spread – known in Russian as eggplant ikra (pronounced eek-rah). Ikra is the Russian word for caviar and according to the interwebs, this spread used to be known as “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 roasted eggplant spread is one of the few Russian 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.
The roasted eggplant spread is best served on fresh bread, but you can also go rogue and eat it with tortilla chips, as a sandwich condiment, or as a topping for grilled meat.
This traditional Russian roasted eggplant spread is known as “poor man’s caviar” or “eggplant caviar”. To speed up the process, you may roast the vegetables a day in advance.
- 2 medium eggplants*
- 2 red bell peppers*
- About 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 medium vine tomatoes*
- About 2 cups boiling water
- 2 tablespoons finely diced yellow 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; set aside.
- Using a fork, poke holes in the eggplants at approximately 2″ intervals. Evenly coat the eggplants and peppers with a few drops of olive oil each. Place the vegetables on the prepared baking sheet and roast until blistered, blackened and mushy, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand, or chill in the refrigerator, until the vegetables are cool enough to handle. (You may chill the vegetables overnight, if desired).
- Meanwhile, cut an X shape into the bottoms of the tomatoes, place them in a bowl, and cover with the boiling water. Let stand for 30 seconds. Drain the hot water and run the tomatoes under cold water. Peel off the tomato skins and discard. Finely dice the tomatoes and place in a large bowl.
- Once cool enough to handle, gently peel the skins off of 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. Taste and add more salt if needed. Let stand for 15 minutes to let the flavors combine. Serve cold or at room temperature. (Leftovers may be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
*This dish is great any time of year, but it’s way more delicious if you use local summer produce, preferably from a farmers market.
- Serving Size: 1/2 cup
- Calories: 95
- Fiber: 5.6 g
- Protein: 1.9 g