The following tasty eggplant-tomato relish, or side dish – called “alburnia” in Ladino – comes from the Sephardic cuisine, which I’ve mentioned here quite a few times.
While the combination of eggplant and tomatoes is popular in many cuisines, the method of preparing this dish is quite unique, and produces a very distinct texture and flavor. The eggplant slices are first fried, then cooked in tomato sauce, and then, contrary to common culinary logic, are chopped in the sauce, and cooked further, to a jam-like consistency. The fried eggplant adds its caramelized flavor and a different texture than that of eggplants simply cooked in sauce. This additional step requires a bit of planning ahead, but is no doubt worth the extra effort.
Traditionally, the dish is served as a warm side dish, mostly with meat or chicken. However, it is also wonderful as a spread for sandwiches, as a topping for Bruschetta or pasta, or as a tasty dip, with crackers or crusty toasted bread on the side. Try it and enjoy.
* Sprinkling the eggplants with salt for a few hours, makes them absorb minimal amount of oil while frying. Don’t skip this step, or you’ll end up with very soggy and oily eggplants.
* For more information about Sephardic cuisine, check THIS POST.
Draining the eggplant: 4 hours, preferably overnight
Prep time: 20 minutes
Frying time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
1 large eggplant
2 Tbs salt
Oil for frying
2 medium tomatoes
2 Tbs tomato paste
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup water
1 large clove garlic
1 Tbs olive oil
- Cut the eggplant lengthwise, into medium thick slices. Sprinkle with salt on both side, place in a colander, and let stand for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- Pat-dry with paper towels. In a wide frying pan, heat oil for shallow frying over over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant slices until deep golden brown on both side. Place on paper towels and let cool to room temperature.
- With a sharp knife, cut X on each tomato top, and place in a bowl. Cover with boiling water and let stand for about 1 minute. Drain, let cool a bit and remove the skin. Cut each tomato into quarters. Remove the centers with the seeds and place them in a small strainer over a medium bowl. Squeeze and keep the juice. Discard skins and centers.
- Cut the tomatoes into medium size cubes, and add to the bowl with the tomato juice. Add the tomato paste, sugar, salt, pepper and water, and mix.
- Peel and cut the garlic into small cubes. Place in a large pan, add the olive oil, and gently fry over medium heat, just until the garlic changes color.
- Add the tomato mix into the pan. Mix and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the fried eggplant, and cook for 5 minutes. Now, using a fork and knife, gently start to shred the eggplant, while mixing with the tomato sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Lower the heat to low, and cook, stirring gently occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the mixture has a jam consistency. Serve warm or at room temperature.