I suppose we might define this dish as more of a spread or a puree than a salad, but in Romanian cuisine a ‘salata’ can be more or less anything from a traditional loose-leaf side dish to a heavier combination of veg and meat served with grilled meat. This aubergine salad is one of my favourites and it is utterly morish. I think it must count as one of the absolute requirements for any Romanian meal; served as a starter along with crust bread and various other ‘salate’ or on the table for a late summer barbeque. It can easily be made well in advance and make plenty, because it’s also extremely delicious just on its own for a lunchtime snack, and all the better with some crispy grilled ‘lipia’ bread (a kind of round thin bread, something like a flatbread or pitta). What’s more, it’s simple to make. So what are you waiting for? Oh yeah, for the eggplants to come into season…
Time: 90 minutes
Servings: Hard to say: for 6 people as a starter or side dish maybe
3-4 medium-sized aubergines/eggplants
1 large onion (normal or you can use red onion if you like)
Some oil (traditionally it uses ‘untdelemn’ which is, I think some kind of vegetable oil, but olive oil works well too)
A teaspoon of apple vinegar*
Parsley, tomato, or green pepper for garnish
*you can use lemon juice instead if you prefer
1. The aubergines are best cooked over a flame, so if you’re doing a barbeque you can cook them on that. Alternatively, if you have a gas oven, you can cook them on the hob over a gas ring, or under a flame grill (less messy). If you have no access to a naked flame, then you’ll have to cook them in the oven, but you miss the smokiness unfortunately.
2. Turn them regularly over/under the flame until they start to ‘collapse’. At the beginning they are hard and resistant and sound solid when you tap them. As they cook, they made maintain their shape but start to sound hollow as the inside cooks down. At some point they’ll probably collapse, juice will start to run out, or they may even pop. Once they are like that all round, they are done. Take them off the fire.
3. Now you need to peel them. I usually find that if I pop them into a plastic container with the lid on for five minutes, the skins comes of a little easier (same trick can be used with roasted peppers). However you do it, chop off the tail, peel off the skin, and put the cooked flesh to one side and repeat with each of the aubergines.
4. Check you’ve removed any little bits of skin, put the aubergines on a chopping board and with a large heavy knife, chop them up until you get a puree. Then elevate one side of the chopping board and allow the juice to drain off (into the sink) for 30 minutes or more. If you’re in a hurry, you can dump the flesh into a sieve and squeeze the juice out.
5. Very finely chop the onion.
6. Put the drained aubergine into a bowl and start to slowly drizzle in the oil. Beat it in well with a fork until you get a nice smooth puree, probably between about 3-5 tablespoons, depending how well you drained the flesh.
7. Add the onion, vinegar, and a teaspoon of salt and mix it well. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Garnish with parsley leaves, slices of tomato or slices of green pepper.
8. It’s now ready to eat or can be put into a bowl and kept in the fridge for a few days.