Eggplant-Red Pepper Dip (Melitzanosalata) (Μελιτζανοσαλάτα με Πιπεριές)
Makes 1 cup
The smoky flavor of eggplant grilled over an open fire makes the best Melitzanosalata, although it’s not absolutely necessary to success. When I don’t want to start a fire or mess around with grilling pre-roasted eggplant inside, I oven-roast eggplant and add grilled red pepper for smokiness. Although you can make Melitzanosalata in a food processor, I far prefer the more rustic texture that results from knife-chopping. Serve with crusty bread and olives for a tasty appetizer, or as a flavorful accompaniment to grilled meat.
1 1-pound eggplant, or 2 1/2-pound eggplants
1 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4-6 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Rub whole, uncut eggplant with olive oil, and place on rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 – 70 minutes, depending on size of eggplant, or until eggplant collapses and is cooked all the way through. (Better yet, grill eggplant over fire until it’s cooked through.) Peel eggplant, cut into large chunks, and place chunks in colander for 15 minutes to let some of the juices drain off. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
Roast and clean red pepper (see Note below).
Place eggplant flesh on cutting board, finely chop, and put in bowl. Finely chop roasted red pepper and add to bowl. Purée garlic by mashing it into salt, and add to bowl. Add freshly ground black pepper, 4 tsp. vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil, and mix well. Taste and add vinegar or salt, as needed.
To serve, spread Melitzanosalata evenly over plate and drizzle with small amount of extra virgin olive oil.
Note on Roasting and Cleaning Peppers: The traditional method of roasting peppers is over a hot wood fire, but you can also roast them on a gas grill, directly on a gas burner (without a pan), under the broiler, or by baking in a 450° oven for 30 minutes. Unless you’re baking them in, turn peppers frequently as they roast to ensure skins char evenly and flesh doesn’t overcook. When skin is completely blackened, place peppers in paper bag and close it up for 5 minutes. Hot pepper flesh releases steam in the closed bag, loosening charred skin and making pepper easier to peel.
Once peppers are cool enough to handle, remove burned skin from softened flesh with your fingers or a paper towel, gently scraping away any stuck bits with a knife. Resist temptation to rinse the peppers in water, as doing so washes away too much flavor. If necessary, dip your fingers in bowl of water to release clinging charred pepper skins. Remove seeds and any white pulp from inside of pepper.