Vegan Eggplant & Quinoa Caviar

You all know how much I adore eggplant, so when I brought home half a dozen deep purple beauties last week, I was sure they'd all be gone by now. Boy, did I overestimate myself! So, in this morning's pantry assessment, I realized that I still had 4 large eggplants on hand and eggplants, like most good things, just don't last forever.

On Christmas Day this year, we have a lot of stops to make and they're all potlucks! I could have prepared several different dishes -- one for each gathering -- but since the only common denominator of the events if the two of us, and WE love eggplant, I decided to cheat instead. I'm just making one dish, in copious quantities, and bringing some of it to each party. Watch me!

Eggplant is really versatile, so there are lots of dishes I considered before making my decision. I could have cut it into long, thin slices and grilled it, and then wrapped it around steamed asparagus. I could have defrosted some puff pastry and made some delicious little eggplant-filled puffs. I also thought about cutting the eggplant into small rounds, roasting it, and building faux eggplant almesan (vegan parmesan-like stuff made from almonds) stacks on crostini.

All really good ideas, but there's also kind of a lot of elbow grease involved. Ultimately, I decided that I didn't want to make something that was individually portioned because I never know how many eaters are going to want to dig in! So, all things considered, I settled on eggplant caviar, also known as "poor man's caviar" which doesn't have anything to do with fish or fish eggs at all. It's called caviar because the eggplant seeds give it somewhat of a caviar-like look. I thought I'd up the ante on this imitation by adding cooked quinoa which, in my estimation, looks far more like fish eggs than any eggplant ever would on its own.

I made this recipe using 4 eggplants and that's a LOT of vegan caviar. For your convenience and so as not to scare you away from this recipe, I've halved the recipe so the yield is a very manageable 2-3 cups (depending on the size of your eggplant).

Roasted Eggplant & Quinoa Caviar
Yield: 2-3 cups or about 6-8 servings

2 eggplants
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and cut in slivers
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Italian parsley
2 Tbsp chopped green olives
1 cup cooked quinoa

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut eggplants crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Make 2 parallel slits about 1-inch long in the center of each slice. Drizzle 1 Tbsp oil in bottom of large baking sheet with sides. Place eggplant slices snugly in pan. Insert a garlic sliver into each slit. Drizzle remaining oil over all the slices and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes and then use a spatula to turn slices over. Roast an additional 10 minutes until quite tender.

Pile hot roasted eggplant in a deep bowl to steam. I like to cover them loosely with a kitchen towel to keep the heat in. Stir vinegar into empty baking pan while still warm and scrape up any brown bits and add to the bowl with the eggplant. Coarsely chop parsley and olives together. Add eggplant to your cutting board, reserving any juices in bowl. Chop very fine, return to bowl, and stir to blend.

Allow to stand for at least 1 hour before serving to let flavors blend. Taste and add vinegar, pepper, or salt as desired.

Now, you've made this fabulous dip-spread-type-substance and you're thinking, "Do I eat this with a spoon, or what?" Well, yes. You can eat it with a spoon. Your friends might laugh, though. Pita or tortilla chips is a perfect pairing but if you're cutting those carbs, it's also great with cut celery, carrots or leaves of baby spinach or basil.

And the best part (aside from the flavor)? You can make eggplant caviar up to 1 day ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator. Simply bring to room temperature before serving!

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