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Eggplant Caviar ('Ikra' or 'Seeniye')

The Joy of Cooking explains that this dish is from the Caucasus, originally created as a tasty substitute for those who could not afford the luxury of real caviar, but versions exist today everywhere from Russia to Greece. Not for the faint of heart, this spread has an assertive garlic-and-vinegar flavor that may at first seem off-putting, but quickly becomes addictive. This is my mother-in-law's recipe, and she is never allowed to show up without it.

Makes about 2 cups

1 eggplant, about 1 pound

Half a large tomato or one Roma

2 to 3 small garlic cloves

3/4 teaspoon salt

Few grinds of black pepper

3 tablespoons vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork, and roast on a foil-lined baking sheet for 30 to 45 minutes, until soft. Make a few slashes in the bottom of the eggplant, and drain it in a colander for about 20 minutes. Cool completely.

Cut eggplant open and scrape out flesh and seeds with a fork onto a cutting board, discarding the skin. With a large knife, chop the eggplant flesh into very small bits. (Unfortunately, the food processor, although speedier, only purees the eggplant, leaving little texture.) Scrape into a medium bowl.

In a food processor, puree the tomato with garlic. Pour puree into bowl with chopped eggplant, add the salt, black pepper, vinegar and vegetable oil. Adjust seasonings to taste.

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