No matter how many times I eat this eggplant spread it still brings back memories of long summers spent in Romania. You know how they’ve found that the very process of recalling your memories also permanently alters them? Well making this spread is like recalling a memory that doesn’t seem to ever change.
In Romanian it’s called salatã de vinete or eggplant salad, a common name for this type of spread throughout the Balkans and Mediterranean. It takes quite a while to make (3 hours at minimum) so we didn’t always have it when I was growing up. It was reserved for balmy summer evenings when, exhausted from the heat of the day, we would sit around the grape trellis covered rectangular table in my grandparents yard eating the foods of summer: fresh made sheep’s milk feta, sweet tomatoes still warm from the sun beating down on them in the garden, crisp cucumbers, crusty bread from the bakery up the hill, and oftentimes this eggplant spread.
Romanian food doesn’t have the sexy reputation of Greek or Italian but I’ve made this spread for non-Romanian friends before and they couldn’t get enough. The eggplant is cooked thoroughly so it takes on a really luxurious texture. When it’s ready I usually add sweet yellow onion, but this time I used red and it tasted almost the same. The cooking also imparts a smokiness that rounds out the raw onion nicely. A creamy element comes in the form of either canola oil or mayonnaise (which I prefer).
The eggplant releases a lot of liquid while it’s cooking so if you’re making it in the oven make sure you place a foil lined pan underneath it as shown here.
You’ll know the eggplant is ready when it’s totally deflated and the skin crumbles when you flip it with tongs. This is what my eggplants looked like when they were ready.
Depending on the eggplants and your oven it could take longer than an hour. You should also make sure not to skip draining. My mother used to tell me that they needed to be drained to prevent a bitter flavour from developing. Being the rebel that I am I once skipped the draining and went straight to blending and refrigerating. The amount of liquid that pooled in my eggplant spread was unbelievable. A lot of liquid comes out of the eggplant and if you don’t drain it properly you’ll be disappointed. Also, even if you do drain properly some separation might happen. In that case just mix it before eating
Salatā de vinete is best served cold on toasted bread with tomato and cucumber. For the pictures shown here I used a round glass to cut circles out of bread, which I then toasted. I smeared a thin layer of mayonnaise on the toast medallions, and layered a slice of cucumber, a teaspoonful of eggplant spread, diced heirloom tomatoes on top and a sprinkle of diced parsley. If you really wanted to go for the gold, you could even whip up some homemade mayonnaise. That recipe is for olive oil mayonnaise but canola could easily be substituted (and would be more authentic).
2-3 large eggplants
Half a yellow or red onion
Salt to taste
1-2 TBSP mayonnaise (optional, you can substitute with 1 TBSP canola or olive oil)
Preheat oven to 400
Set up your oven racks as shown in the picture (one on the bottom and one half way up)
Cover a half sheet pan with aluminum foil and place on lower oven rack
Wash eggplants and place directly on upper rack right above the foil lined pan
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, turning every 15-20 minutes (eggplants are done when they’ve deflated and the skin pulls from the flesh as shown in the picture)
Remove from oven and splay out in colander or bowl to cool and start drain
Once eggplants are cool, remove the skin by peeling it off from the flesh
Discard skin and allow the remaining eggplant to drain for up to an hour (you can also squeeze it to make this go faster)
Place in a food processor and blend with onion until smooth (if you don’t have a food processor you can also use a blender or finely dice the onion and use a potato masher)
Salt to taste and add mayonnaise if you want to
Serve chilled or at room temperature
Cook eggplant on a hot barbecue turning frequently until deflated (approximately 15-20 minutes)
Follow the rest of the instructions for oven method