Alternate title: A Tale of Too Many Onions.
Look, I have nothing against onions. They’re a culinary workhorse. They have the power to make grown men weep. They figure prominently in the denouement of one of the best books ever written, Holes by Louis Sachar.
Even raw onions have their place — a sprinkling of scallions to top off your bowl of soba, a smattering of red onions folded into your quinoa. They’re sharp; they’re pungent; they’re good in small doses.
You know what isn’t a small dose? A whole onion, chopped. That’s what Nonnie’s recipe for eggplant caviar — a sort of Eastern European take on baba ghanoush — calls for. I looked over it a few times, just to make sure I was reading it right; once it became clear that I was, I tried investing in some cautious optimism.
Maybe Nonnie knew better than me! Maybe a whole raw onion is delicious when mixed with tomato, garlic (also raw), scallions (more onions???) and a big ol’ eggplant, roasted until its insides collapse into a pile of tasty goo! Maybe it’d just be like salsa, except not spicy and with added eggplant!
Spoiler: Nope, not so much.
Eggplant Caviar; main text Nonnie’s, italicized asides my own
1 large eggplant [I used the right kind this time!]
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped [Though you’re more likely to see raw red onion than raw white onions in this day and age, I went with white because Nonnie didn’t tell me not to]
1 tablespoon minced green onion [Have you ever tried to mince a scallion? I don’t recommend it; they’re slippery little buggers, and my “mince” ended up looking less than precise. Which didn’t really matter, I suppose, because this guy was going to taste like a big bowl of alliums even if my scallion slices were properly tiny]
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Bake whole, unpeeled eggplant in a hot (425) oven on a cooky [sic] sheet, turning so that all sides cook evenly, for about an hour, or until soft. [Mine needed more time, maybe 20 extra minutes; I’d recommend sticking it under the broiler instead and rotating the eggplant as it blackens, so that it a) cooks faster and b) gets some nice smokey flavor.]
Cool. Split and scoop out pulp into a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and chop until it reaches desired consistency. Store in a covered glass bowl or jar in refrigerator.
The Verdict: Onion City. Onionsburgh. New Oniontown, population: onions.
The onion taste was strong, is what I’m saying — and on top of that, it wasn’t exactly the prettiest thing ever to come out of my kitchen.
Even stowing it in a mason jar didn’t make it cute. Imagine trying to sell this watery catastrophe at Smorgasburg. Imagine!
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there: After letting my creation languish in the fridge for a week, I resolved to transform this sad eggplant salsa into something delicious.
Step one: I dropped it into a hot, oiled pan, and cooked the hell out of it until the onions lost their raw flavor.
Step two: I mixed it with eensy mozzarella balls, chopped basil, oregano, bowties, and oven-roasted cherry tomatoes (slice tomatoes in half; toss with olive oil; arrange cut-side up on cookie sheet; stick in a 200° oven for as long as you can stand, but you’ll need at least three or four hours to get them deliciously shriveled and concentrated). Sure, “I don’t know, just mix it with noodles?” is just about the least creative way to make so-so vegetables palatable — but clichés are clichés for a reason, right?
Behold: a dish that isn’t disgusting! Let’s hope my next venture into Nonnie’s less obviously delicious concoctions has a similar happy ending.