Caponata Hot and Cold
Eggplant relish is a sweet and sour dish that lends itself easily and well to many uses. I've been making a variation of Jeff Smith's caponata recipe for over 20 years.
Lately the variations have been to prepare it in a healthier fashion (less oil). But often a variation happens because of a missing ingredient or two. As long as the basics are there: eggplant, celery,onion, tomato, raisins and vinegar, it always turns out to be a satisfying dish.
Eggplant relish is a piquant side that will complement many a meal. It's a wonderful sandwich topping, great spread on crackers as an appetizer — and for me, it often becomes the main event.
The salad above is simply hearts of romaine and arugula dressed with a few drops of olive oil and a good splash of apple cider vinegar, then the greens are tossed with a few heaping tablespoons of cold caponata. Scatter on a few pine nuts (roasted or not) and you've a wonderful luncheon salad or an intesting first course.
When this batch of caponata was still warm from the stove, I used it to top chewy, nutty flavored Bhutanese red rice. Red rice is another interesting grain to use in a one bowl meal. It provides a satisfying rich flavor along with high nutritional value. Red rice is unhulled, the germ left in tact when processed. It's my next best favorite after mahogany rice.
The quantities listed in the recipe below produce about 5-6 cups of relish. Alter the amounts based on the size of the eggplant you have. Then add the other ingredients proportionately.
Jeff's directions are straight forward sauteéing using a good deal of olive oil. The original recipe includes 4-5 anchovies packed in oil, while all this extra fat certainly adds to the flavor, cooking the relish in a more heart-healthy manner doesn't detract from the final finished flavor.
(adapted from the Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian)
2 pounds eggplant
2 cups celery, sliced 1/4" thick
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 TBS sugar (agave, stevia or omit entirely)
3 cups crushed plum tomatoes (canned is okay)
2 TBS tomato paste
2 TBS pickled capers, drained
6 large pitted green olives, drained and sliced (mandarin olives are okay)
1/4 cup golden raisins (dark ones work fine, too)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (roast in dry pan over medium heat or serve raw)
salt and pepper to taste
Trim the tops off the eggplant(s) and dice into one inch pieces. Place in a large bowl and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil. Spread diced eggplant in a single layer onto a cookie sheet (or two) and roast off in a 400° oven for 15-10 minutes until soft.
While the eggplant is roasting, slice the celery and chop the onion. Place in a large sauté pan over medium heat with about a 1/4 cup of filtered water. Bring to a boil, then gently sauté the aromatics turning and adding more water, if needed, until they are shiny and soft. Allow the water to evaporate toward the end of the cooking time.
Transfer the cooked aromatics to a deep 3 or 4 qt saucepan, and place over medium heat. As the pan heats, add the tomato paste stirring to allow it to blend thoroughly with the onions and celery. Add the roasted eggplant pieces, along with the remainder of the ingredients except the raisins, pine nuts, salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Stir in the raisins, pine nuts and salt and pepper.
Traditionally, for best flavor, allow to cool and serve at room temperature or cold.
But I suggest you give it a try warm. Ladle a generous portion over red rice, brown rice, mahogany rice, whole wheat angel hair pasta, quinoa, or even couscous to make a tasty grain bowl. Then the next day, use it in a salad or stuff it in a pita pocket with lots of crispy greens.