Eggplant caviar is the Soviet summer staple you didn’t know you needed. Think of it as Eastern European salsa or bruschetta. (From the Motherland is a series where I pay homage to my Ukrainian heritage and share my favorite childhood recipes. This article has been updated from its original 2014 version.)
Eggplant caviar is a true Soviet cuisine staple – instantly recognizable and beloved by Russian and Ukrainian people everywhere. Known as baklazhannaya ikra (“ikra” = caviar in Russian), it’s a zingy, garlicky summertime spread of roasted eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
A Bit of History…
Before we go any further, a note on semantics: you’ll notice I use the descriptors Russian and Ukrainian interchangeably here because this dish is both – rather, it’s Soviet. I’m not a historian – and have not lived in Ukraine (Odessa, to be exact) since I was a child – but what I can tell you is that roasting and puréeing eggplants and peppers has been a common way of preparing these vegetables in that part of the world for hundreds of years. (See: ajvar, romesco, muhammara, and baba ganoush.)
Now, actual caviar has always been a hit among my people. But in the mid-1900’s, the eggplant version really took off and came to be known as “poor man’s caviar” – as the fishy kind became impossible to get due to food shortages and widespread poverty. It has remained a staple to this day and can even be bought in any Russian/Ukrainian store here in Brooklyn.
Eggplant caviar is one of the many, many zakuski you’ll find on the Ukrainian celebration table (whether it’s New Year’s Eve, a birthday, etc.). “Zakuski” (pronounced zah-KOO-ski) are cold appetizers – an array of little bites (salads, spreads, pickles, charcuterie) designed to chase down vodka shots. Zakuski are usually the first course of a festive meal, served before the entrées. But in my [albeit limited] experience, everyone’s usually too drunk by the time the hot food rolls around, so really, zakuski are the star.
What’s In This Ukrainian Eggplant Caviar
Moving on from our history lesson, eggplant caviar is an absolutely delicious way to use up eggplants! The spread is especially great for those of you who are still on the fence about this vegetable, since its flavor is mostly masked by the other ingredients. You can think of it as Ukrainian bruschetta or caponata, or even salsa.
This spread consists of roasted eggplants and red bell peppers, finely diced fresh tomatoes, raw garlic, parsley, raw onion, vinegar, and unrefined sunflower oil (you can sub with EVOO).
It’s worth mentioning there are dozens of ways to make ikra. Different cooks’ techniques vary based on what region they’re from and what their family’s background is. Like any homestyle recipe, there’s no one “authentic” version.
Eggplant Caviar Step-by-Step
Prep the Veg: First, poke holes in the eggplants using a fork or paring knife; this may prevent them from exploding in the oven. (Now, I’m not sure an eggplant has ever actually exploded or if it’s an old wives’ tale, but l do it just to be safe.) Then lightly drizzle the veg with oil and rub to coat evenly.
Roast the Veg: Roast in a 375ºF oven until the veg are completely collapsed, charred, and blistered. This takes about an hour – turn them every 20 minutes or so.
Cool the Veg: Transfer to a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap/beeswax wrap. This will trap the steam in the bowl, making the veg easier to peel later.
Puree the Veg: When the eggplants and peppers are cool enough to handle, peel the skins and discard. Pull out the ribs and seeds from the peppers, and discard. Squeeze the eggplant flesh with your hands to get rid of as much moisture as possible. Put all the veg in a food processor and puree until broken down.
Prep the Tomatoes: To peel the tomatoes, cut an X into the bottoms, place in a bowl, and cover with boiling water. Set aside for a few minutes. Then drain and peel the tomatoes, starting at the seams of the X.
Combine everything: Finely chop the peeled tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Add the pureed eggplants and peppers, along with the raw garlic and onion, parsley, vinegar, and oil. Stir to combine, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ingredient Notes + Substitutions
- Since ikra is designed to showcase the flavor of these vegetables, use the best-quality ones you can find – preferably local, in-season eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.
- Eggplants: Globe eggplants work best here.
- Bell Peppers: Red or orange peppers are both fine, but avoid green ones so as to not end up with brown caviar.
- Sunflower Oil: What extra virgin olive oil is to Italian food, unrefined sunflower oil is to Ukrainian. Pressed from sunflower seeds, it has a delicious nutty flavor and is used for finishing salads, potatoes, and other cooked vegetables. You can find it in Eastern European/Russian markets, online, or in the international aisle of some supermarkets. If you can’t find it, use a good-quality EVOO here.
Eggplant ikra is even better on day two, so you can certainly make it in advance. It’ll last in the fridge for about 5 days. Alternatively, you can roast the veg in advance, cool them in the fridge overnight, and finish the spread day-of.
How to Serve Ukrainian Eggplant Caviar
Like I said, this is technically an appetizer, traditionally served alongside other salads, spreads, pickles, etc. (kinda like mezze). Most people eat ikra on fresh bread – pita triangles are also a good idea. As a main, I’d serve it with herby potatoes and garlicky beans.
More ways with eggplant…
- Spicy Tomato-Stewed Eggplant
- Ottolenghi-Inspired Eggplant with Tahini
- Roasted Eggplant Sandwich with Romesco
- 7 Must-Try Vegan Eggplant Recipes
Let me know if you try this recipe! Give it a rating below and leave a comment, and don’t forget to tag your creation with @thenewbaguette on Instagram.Print
Eggplant caviar is the Soviet summer staple you didn’t know you needed. Think of it as Eastern European salsa or bruschetta.
- 2 medium eggplants (1 1/2 pounds)
- 2 red bell peppers
- About 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium vine tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons finely diced white or red onion
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley and/or cilantro
- 2 tablespoons apple cider, white, or red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Ukrainian unrefined sunflower oil (you can sub with EVOO)
- 1 medium garlic clove, crushed or grated
- About 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Using a fork, poke holes in the eggplants at approximately 2-inch intervals* (see note below). Drizzle the eggplants and peppers with a few drops of olive oil and rub to coat evenly.
- Roast the veg. Place on a baking sheet and roast until blistered, blackened, and totally collapsed, 45 to 60 minutes, turning the veg every 20 minutes or so. (The peppers may be done first, so pull them out and continue roasting the eggplants.)
- Cool the veg. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside at room temp – or chill in the fridge – until they’re cool enough to handle. (Covering the bowl with plastic traps the steam, making the veg easier to peel later.)
- Prep the tomatoes. Meanwhile, cut an X into the bottoms of the tomatoes, cutting about a quarter of the way through. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for a few minutes. Then drain and run tomatoes under cold water. Peel off the skins and discard. Finely dice and place in a large bowl.
- Peel the veg. When cool enough to handle, peel the skins off the roasted vegetables and discard, along with the tops. Split open the peppers and discard the ribs and seeds. Firmly squeeze the eggplant flesh with your hands and discard the excess liquid.
- Finish the caviar. Place the eggplants and peppers in a food processor and puree until smooth (alternatively, chop them very finely). Transfer the puree to the bowl with the tomatoes and add the onion, parsley, garlic, vinegar, sunflower oil, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
- Set aside for at least 15 minutes before serving. (Leftovers may be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
This may prevent eggplants from exploding in the oven. (Now, I’m not sure an eggplant has ever actually exploded or if it’s an old wives’ tale, but l do it just to be safe.)
- Serving Size: 1/2 cup
- Calories: 95
- Fiber: 5.6 g
- Protein: 1.9 g
Keywords: russian, ukrainian, eggplant, caviar, ikra