On this Mother’s Day 2019, here is my present to you: Grandma Rosie’s Chopped Eggplant. This recipe means so much more to me than simply the sum of its ingredients. We used to make it for special holidays, and always in a big wooden bowl with what we reverently called “the chopper,” a utensil whose correct name — I have since learned — is actually “mezzaluna,” which accurately describes its half-moon shape. The bowl and its contents would pass among my grandmother and whomever else was helping out in the kitchen, each of us chopping for as long as we were able, until our chopping arm was aching and it was time for the bowl to be transferred to the next lap. We all chopped, but only Grandma Rosie decided when the eggplant was ready.
On a recent visit to Jerusalem to visit my son and daughter-in-law, who asked me to make this recipe for them to serve at a special celebration, I discovered neither wooden bowl nor mezzaluna, nor even a food processor. What to do? Improvise! I would never have guessed that I could reproduce this recipe with just a knife, fork, and cutting board, but that is exactly what happened. Grandma Rosie would have been so proud, and I like to imagine that this is how chopped eggplant was prepared (perhaps by Grandma Rosie’s own grandmother before her?) some long-ago time before wooden bowls and choppers became “de rigueur” in the Eastern European kitchen.
Note: I usually roast the eggplants the night before I plan to make the recipe, so they can cool overnight.
1. Puncture 4 med-large eggplants with a fork or knife in a few places, and roast on high heat (475F) in oven until skins are blackened and flesh is soft. Start checking after 30 minutes, but it may take up to an hour or so. Allow to cool completely.
2. Chop 6 medium yellow onions coarsely.
3. Add 4 onions worth (2/3 of the pile) to a large frying pan with generous amount of sizzling olive oil (3-4 Tbsp). Stir frequently on med to high heat until onions are clear and edges are browning. Set aside.
4. Sprinkle remaining onions with one and one-half teaspoons of salt and chop as fine as possible, even until the onions begin to become paste-like.
5. Use the back of a fork to mash the eggplant with all the onions (cooked and raw) until well mixed.
6. If you like, you can also add one-half teaspoon black pepper, or mash a couple cloves of fresh garlic with the raw onion, or sprinkle the top with parsley prior to serving. Also, use a food processor if you like, but be careful to pulse just a few times or the texture will become thick and gummy.
Serves 6-8, warm or cold.
Thank you, Grandma Rosie, and Happy Mother’s Day to you.