I love watching the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Save for those silly “game show” style competitions, I could watch it all day long. And have.
Perhaps it is my love to try new recipes or my love for learning about family traditions and cultures, or maybe even my silly dream to have gone to culinary school.
So I suppose it might not surprise you that I was watching Food Network in the dentist office a few weeks ago. Although I do watch it during my cleanings, this time it was my son’s turn. I was in the waiting room. What surprised ME was my reaction.
I was watching Trisha Yearwood’s show, Trisha’s Southern Kitchen. I just love the things she cooks and the stories she tells. This episode was about her childhood hero, Olympic Gold Medal winner Nadia Comaneci and her medal winning husband Bart Conner. In the episode, Trisha had invited them over for lunch and made a whole gold medal inspired lunch, pork medallions, pineapple upside cake and her family’s traditional grits. Nadia brought one of her traditional dishes,”Salata de Vinete” or eggplant salad spread.
I saw the picture and I turned to my 18 year old and screamed, “That’s my baba’s eggplant!” I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Perhaps I should shine a little bit of light on the excitement. My baba was an old fashioned cook, as most of our grandmothers were. She cooked three meals…good old fashioned food. Since she died when I was 12, most of my memories of her are of me standing on a chair watching, or helping her prepare dish after delicious dish. I inherited most of her recipes. One of my most treasured possessions.
As much as I remember her eggplant, I don’t EVER remember her making it. The only reason it even evoked any emotions is that my great aunt (my grandmother’s sister-in-law) Judy loved that eggplant. Decades after my grandmother died, Aunt Judy was on a mad rush to find the recipe. She talked about it every single summer, nearly every week, as we drove on our annual pilgrimage to the Hollywood Bowl. I was somehow determined to find it for her. Judy now has Alzheimer’s. Our Bowl trips have stopped. And darn it if I’m still determined to re-create this eggplant dish for her.
So back to Nadia. She’s from Romania and my ancestors hail from that neck of the woods. Well, Russia to be exact, but I’m sure they must share recipes. The thing that sold me on this dish was just how Nadia made it. She didn’t whip out her food processor or her modern tool-chopper to puree the eggplant. She used a regular old chef’s knife. Just one. And she chopped and chopped, almost in a haphazard manner, until the baked eggplant was finely minced, almost mashed.
That’s how they cooked in the “pre-Cuisinart” times. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my food processor. But there is something magical about the way things used to be done.
Next stop, bringing it to my Aunt to see what kind of warm memories it evokes in her.
Nadia’s Eggplant Salad Spread
2 medium eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil (+more if needed)
2 TBL. lemon juice ( I used 3 or 4)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 TBL mayonnaise
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Dill for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pierce the eggplant skins in several places with a fork. Set the eggplant on a baking sheet and roast until the eggplant is soft and the skin is charred. (about 30-45 minutes)
When done, cut the stems off of the eggplant. Cut a slit along the side of each eggplant and transfer the eggplants to a strainer for a couple of minutes to allow the juices to drain.
Finely chop the eggplants with a knife until they form a smooth puree. Add the eggplant puree to a bowl and stir in the olive oil and lemon juice. Add the onion and mix the mayonnaise, adding more if needed. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with dill and refrigerate for at least one hour to chill.
To see what else was cooking in Trisha’s kitchen go to http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/trishas-southern-kitchen/400-series/gold-medal-meals.html