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Vinetta: Romanian Eggplant Appetizer

January 15, 2014

I love eggplant. My parents are from Romania, and along with mamaliga, the cornmeal-made staple (think Italian polenta, American grits… but that’s another post), it’s embedded in my DNA. My parents arrived in this country in the early 50’s, with a stopover of a few years in Vienna.  They brought quite a bit with them, including my grandma and a little German-speaking almost-toddler, AKA my sister Annie. One of the first things my mom bought soon after they arrived, was a wooden bowl and a hocker (curved knife blade with a metal handle). Whenever she cooked, that bowl was out and the hocker was busy. What noise did the hocker make? Hock, hock hock… silly.

 bowl and hocker, circa 1951

bowl and hocker, circa 1951

This bowl has seen many a batch of chopped chicken liver, egg salad, and vinetta (VEE– neh- teh). Shegave it to me recently because it was very lonely just sitting in the cabinet. You can imagine how I treasure it and use it every chance I get. Which brings me back to my beloved eggplant.

eggplant

I never met an eggplant I didn’t like. Once, years ago, I was in a sparkly new market (anyone remember Irvine Ranch Farmer’s Market? (Oops, there I go dating myself again… the girl can’t help it, the girl can’t help it). There I stood, transfixed, in front of the most amazing display of eggplant, neatly stacked in ascending rows, their butts all pointed towards me.  I was drawn to one near the center. Something about the shade of purple, I don’t know, called to me. I gave a gentle tug, holding all his brothers in place. It didn’t budge. I gathered all my focus, not to mention upper body strength,  took a breath, and went for it. No, the display did not come a-tumbling down (one of many miracles in my life). I found myself staring at an eggplant with, I swear to you, a Jughead Jones-style nose where a nose would go (do I need to explain myself? please look up The Archies on your own time).

I took my treasure home and gently laid him in the crisper drawer in the fridge. I’d come home from work every day, open the crisper and say hello. Is this the day I’ll use him? Not just yet, I’d say to myself, day after day. The skin was getting a little mottled. I still couldn’t bring myself to make a move. And eventually, I came home, checked on Jughead, turned him over and, yikes, Jughead, my eggplant, had rotted. Please learn from this tale. I try to use my beautiful produce while they’re still beautiful (with the exception of bananas).

Þ

So my niece Karen says to me, “Do more posts on eggplant, I’m a little scared of them.” We’ll take care of that. She’s a pediatrician in Ohio and a little one, as she says, will  soon (b’eH) be making his grand entrance into the world.  A few weeks ago, a five-year-old looked straight at her belly and said matter-of-factly, ” I like your baby.”

I get it. You don’t want to roast the eggplants over your gas stove until they char to black and all these tiny soot-like pieces get everywhere. There are purists who insist on this method, and yes, that smoky flavor is pretty delicious. But let’s leave that smoky thing for the purists and the restaurants. We can still attain a high quality of life. We’ll be civilized and lower our stress levels by roasting the eggplants in the oven until they soften, pucker and start to look dehydrated.

roasted eggplant

For a very brief rundown of all the regions of the world that love eggplant, click here.

We’ll use basic additions like oil, chopped onions and salt. Very popular to also include minced garlic and black pepper. I love adding lemon juice and sometimes chopped Italian parsley.

oil, lemon, garlic, s&p

Set the roasting pan on the back of the stove and let the eggplants cool. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and scrape out the pulp with a fork. Toss the little seeds. You can also gently peel the eggplants and then cut in half. There’s some talk of not exposing the eggplant to metal as it will turn the flesh dark. Don’t know what to say. Yes, it’s nicer when it’s more snowy, but I don’t have a high reliability quotient in this area. I comfort myself in knowing that it’s delicious either way.

roasted eggplantChop the eggplant with a hocker, or any way you like.

chopping eggplant

Other additions to roasted eggplant:

  • A few spoons of tahini and you have baba ghanoush
  • fresh herbs such as parsley
  • roasted red peppers
  • chopped tomatoes
  • capers
  • olives
  • spices, like cumin or smoked paprika
  • mayonnaise (yes, mayonnaise) instead of  olive oil
  • vinegar instead of lemon juice

I like to serve eggplant with sliced (Persian) cucumbers and tomato.

roasted eggplant appetizer, onions on the sideMy  Novio, my mom and I all love onion. When it’s just us, you know the onion’s going to be all over that eggplant. When non-onion lovers are present, this is the diplomatic way to go.

VINETTA: Romanian Eggplant Appetizer

Courtesy of Gerta Weintraub

 Ingredients:

2 medium globe eggplants (not Italian or Japanese or baby Indian- all delicious, but for other uses)
juice of ½ lemon
2 T. olive oil (or safflower oil)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T. white onion, finely chopped
2 T. Italian parsley, chopped (optional, either mixed in with the eggplant or sprinkled on top)
salt & pepper

 Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place eggplant on foil-lined baking dish.

Bake until very soft and blackened on outside, about 30-40 minutes.

Cool, then cut in half lengthwise and scrape out flesh.

Chop and place in bowl with remaining ingredients.  Mix well. If you have non-raw onion eaters present, don’t mix in the onions and serve them on the side.

Adjust seasonings to taste. If you like, sprinkle chopped parsley on top.

Enjoy with tomatoes and cucumbers.

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.

Vinetta

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8 Comments
  1. Arlene permalink

    We inherited Sid’s mom’s ghockter and used it for many, many years and recently handed it down to our daughter!

  2. We are soul mates indeed! I was shopping for my crowd of skiers here at Tignes, France, and this was the first time in ages I left a supermarket without at least 3 eggplants! Couldn’t find even one! A whole week without eggplant! I will have to make up for it when we go back, please God. You read my mind!
    XOXO

  3. Ray Karaoz permalink

    My mom used to cook the same with just minor changes. She sautéed the onions and add chopped green and red bell peppers . It was nice to meet you today.
    Ray Karaoz- Champagne

  4. Robert Feld permalink

    Judella, I remember well my Romanian Grandmother making this on her stove top. She burned the skin over the open fire in her kitchen. What a fastoonkineh? Loved the smokey taste though. So I thought to myself how do I get this without the mess and lingering odor? My solution was simple, I roasted the eggplant in its own skin on my gas barbeque outside. The first time I tried this I didn’t poke the skin to release steam, well lets just say there wasn’t much eggplant recoverable! Now I poke a few steam venting holes in the skin and voila. Also, although not traditional I wanted to add to the smoke flavor and add some heat. My solution to this is a spice I get from my local Thai restaurant when I get takeout. There is a toasted dry chili flake they often put out with the selection of prik (the various condiments). Needless to say I can’t pronounce it, but I love to add that to my eggplant Vinetta. I’ve recently tried an armenian version that had a tomato paste and possibly roasted tomato aspect to it which was lovely. I may have to try to make it soon. Zei Gesundt. Robert

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