Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eggplant Dip

I'm lucky to have a mom that loves to cook, and is really good at it. My sister and I grew up in a home where our friends always knew they would be offered tons of homemade goodies. If you were invited over for dinner, you knew it would be something delicious (and there may be a doggie bag of leftovers). So, yes, I have been spoiled with good food my whole life. That's probably why I wanted to learn how to cook. I'm not saying I don't slack off and settle for the easy way out sometimes, but I have learned to appreciate good, home-cooked meals.

Besides experimenting with foods that I love eating, my other method for developing my cooking skills and recipe collection is stealing some of my all time favorites from my mother. When I was in elementary school, my mom bought the school cookbook (parents submitted recipes and a book was sold as a fund raiser). That's where this eggplant dip recipe came from. Even though it originated in the early 90s, this is still one of my favorite dips. I'm pretty sure this was the only recipe my mother ever made from that cookbook, but I am so glad she did. Since I was a kid, I have been able to gobble down half of this dip in one sitting. I used to scarf down so much of it that I could hardly eat any other part of my dinner.

I don't change the flavor in this recipe, just some of the methods. The original is made with fried eggplant, but to save time (you end up cooking eggplant in batches since it won't fit in 1 pan) and make this a tiny bit healthier, I roast the eggplant. The skin can become a little tough if these roast too long, so keep an eye on your oven and roast until they're fully cooked and no more. You could probably also peel the eggplant before roasting, but I'd rather not. Make sure the eggplant gets fully roasted, since it will taste awful if it's undercooked. This dip will get better by the day, so it's best to make it ahead of time. It's still great right out of the pan, but it always tastes better the second day.

Serves 4 as a side dish or 6 as an appetizer
Total time: about 45 minutes

2 medium eggplants
3 large, ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil (or mild oil of your choice)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons basil, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup water (if needed)

Preheat oven to 425F. Chop eggplant into 3/4" pieces (they don't need to be exact or pretty). Spread evenly on 2 baking sheets and toss with 1/4 cup of olive oil (1/8 cup on each sheet). Roast for about 35 minutes, until cooked through and soft.

In the meantime, chop the tomatoes and set aside. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large pan. Add the garlic, oregano and basil and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper. If your tomatoes were not juicy at all, you may want to add a little bit of water to help incorporate the tomato paste, However, I usually find that most tomatoes are juicy enough on their own and don't need any additional liquids. Mix everything together, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Once the eggplant is cooked, add it to the tomato mixture, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove the lid and increase heat to medium, allow to cook until most of the liquid evaporates. You can garnish this with some more fresh basil if you want.

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