Thursday, July 22, 2010

Alice Water's Eggplant Caviar

I was a water baby. Not born into a tub of water but rather swimming with my mother at a very early age, way before teeth or words or long hair came into the picture. There are photographs of me in my birthday suit, held by my mother in her one piece at the Philadelphia YMCA pool, dark from the low lighting, except for the rippling aquamarine water.

Later we were members of the Lombard Swim Club, and their colorful kiddie pool with a wall of spouting water and flowers, was pure magic. I can still taste their sweet and tangy fruit cup with wedges of peeled grapefruit, and smell the air perfumed with chlorine and suntan lotion.

In my camp years we had swimming lessons every day in a cold, spring fed pool out in Chester County, learning the crawl, side stroke, breast stroke, and attempting the butterfly. Then when I was too old to go, swimming for me pretty much stopped. I'd go to the neighbors for a dip or to the beach with a friend, but for the most part swimming became a childhood memory.

Until about a month ago. Chris and I discovered a pool nearby that we can actually afford, and with a swipe of my credit card, we were members. I was a swimmer again. It's an indoor pool that requires swim caps so on our first day there we giggled at our get-ups. Getting over the initial ridiculousness of our smooth shiny noggens, there is actually a wonderful anonymity that comes from being in a room where everyone has on a suit, swim cap and goggles, heads down, except to come up for air.

The other day as I was crawling out to the deep-end, where the floor of the pool suddenly drops several feet, and you feel a little like you're flying, I meditated on dinner. What should we have? I saw the answer in the little bubbles of air all around me, eggplant caviar. Chris had recently bought me Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters, and a nice dinner of bread, eggplant caviar, and sardines sounded good as I turned to complete a lap.

The recipe advises letting the caviar cool, and serving on grilled toast but I couldn't wait that long, and served it hot with fresh bread, it was still delicious. I did notice however, that after a night in the fridge the flavors improved, and grew more rich, so use your judgement.

I hope that wherever you may be this summer, that in the heat of an afternoon, you can find a nice pool or lake, and take a refreshing dip, the answer to "What's for dinner?" may be swimming all around. And if you happen to be a member of the Lombard Swim Club, you are one lucky duck.

Alice Water's Eggplant Caviar

1 large globe eggplant
salt + pepper
olive oil
2 shallots
balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel the eggplant and cut into 1-inch cubes. Put the eggplant in a baking dish, season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss with a generous amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with a few tablespoons water, cover tightly, and bake in the oven (or toaster oven) for 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft.

While the eggplant is baking, peel and dice the shallots very fine. Let them macerate for about 10 minutes in about 2 tablespoons of the vinegar. Peel and mash the garlic and add it to the shallots and vinegar. When the eggplant is done, add it to the shallot and garlic mixture, mashing with a fork, and let it cool to room temperature.

Stir in the chopped parsley or cilantro (or a combination of both) and adjust seasoning. Add additional olive oil and vinegar to taste. Serve on grilled bread.

Serves 4.

For a meal serve with salad, sardines and a few good cheeses.


  1. saved. I love eggplant and will put it in just about everything! How are the sardines? They whole meal sounds delightful, but the sardines make me nervous. What kind would you recommend?

  2. Hi Roxy, I like Matiz Gallego sardines packed in Olive Oil. They are a great source of omega threes, and sardines, from what I understand, have fewer heavy metals and pcbs in them. And when you eat sardines, don't look at them too much! Just pop them in your mouth and enjoy the flavor!

  3. No looking. Thanks for the tip! I will see if I can get up the courage to throw them in the bag next time I'm at the store!

  4. I finally bought sardines from Trader Joe's! Yet to try them, but I also bought eggplant to go along with :)

  5. I'm so glad Roxy! Let me know how you like them! We just ate sardines down at the beach with a little fresh lemon juice and they were delicious.

  6. I love this recipe!

    But FYI, your cutting board appears to be wrought with BPA. My brother-in-law is a chemist and has informed me of the dangers of the hard plastics contaminates (ie., biphyanol-A). I used to have several plastic cutting boards, which looked VERY similar to yours... but have since disposed of them due to this scary information! I'm now into bamboo cutting boards. Sorry to be so morbid; your eggplant looks quite perfect :-)