Sunday, August 10, 2008

Salata de vinete -- Eggplant salad

Inspired by this post on making paneer, I decided to make the curried eggplant with paneer pictured halfway down the page. I found a decent recipe online for Ringan no Ohloh, and as I contemplated making it I realised that oven roasting the eggplants would also give me the basics for salata de vinete.

Just to give a little bit of context: salata de vinete is my absolute favourite food in the entire world. It's my one "desert island" food. It's the one food I could have every day of my life. It's not too dissimilar from other roast eggplant dishes around the world, such as baba ghanouj and various concoctions that go under the name "eggplant caviar." But here's the thing: the way I remember it being made in Romania involved charring the eggplants on a plita, a flat sheet of metal (a kind of sideless pan) that would go over an open flame. This was a smelly and hot process, and somehow my memories of the subsequent removal of the charred skin are also not good. So I've never tried to make this myself, figuring that, as much as I love it, I lacked the equipment (I also don't have a barbecue), and it would be too much work.
But, bad little Romanian that I am, I was willing to try the Indian dish. So I decided to put four eggplants in the oven -- lightly covered with oil, and roasted for a good hour at 200 C. After they cooled, I removed the skin (surprisingly easy!), and mushed up the insides. I used half the mush for the Ringan no Ohloh, which was incredibly good, and saved the rest to make salata de vinete the next day.

Well, it turns out the rest was pretty easy too. I checked Sanda Marin, and she pointed out one thing I'd done wrong: I should have squeezed the eggplant pulp before mashing it to get all the liquid out. And I should have been incredibly careful about getting every last bit of skin off.

I added a couple of chopped onions, lots and lots of salt and pepper, and enough vegetable oil to make it smooth. That was it! It tasted a little disappointing right away, but one more night in the fridge has let the flavours come together, and today the smokiness of the eggplant and the sharpness of the onions are perfect.

Some people don't use onions (or serve them on the side). Some people use garlic instead of onions. Some add a little yoghurt or sour cream to make the salad smoother. For me, though, it has to be raw onions or nothing else. This tastes especially delicious accompanied by a flavourful tomato (if you can find one!).


Unknown said...

Woweee! How exciting. I just came over here following some links from academic blogs and it turns out you're Romanian and you cook! Romanian food!

I am same--left Rom. at age 12, work in humanities academia, love cooking experiments. Shall follow this with interest!

i said...

Hey, cool! Sorry that I'm only seeing your comment now.

What field do you work in? And what kinds of cooking experiments do you do?

Jyoti Bhargava said...

Hi Irina, Mala shared your blog's link yesterday and for now I've read through the recipes on the first page. I'm going to be trying the eggplant salad (and I'm also crazy about raw onions so won't skip them!). Romanian food flavours are probably subtle in comparison to Indian recipes so must taste quite different... The recipes read simple, photos are clear and I do feel inclined to read more about Romanian food to shortlist more recipes to try.

Let me know if you've tried cooking Indian food -- paneer is a favourite with most vegetarian Indians and you've tried it already -- and need to know anything about it.

cheers, Jyoti

i said...

Hi Jyoti,

Thanks for your comment! I'm glad to hear you like raw onions too.... Romanians eat them just as a side, next to salami, cheese, and vegetables. We just dip a wedge of onion into salt and bite right in!

I'll definitely ask you if I have trouble with anything. I'm embarassed to admit that I know how to make more Indian dishes than Romanian ones at this point -- the reason I started this blog. The difference is that with Romanian dishes, I actually know what they're really supposed to taste like, while for Indian, I've only had the restaurant experience.