“When researchers consider the classic five categories of taste there’s little disagreement over which is the least understood. Creatures crave sweet for sugar and calories. A yen for umami, or savoriness, keeps many animals nourished with protein. Salt’s essential for bodies to stay in fluid balance, and for nerve cells to signal. And a sensitivity to bitterness can come in handy with the whole not-poisoning-yourself thing. But sour? Sour’s a bizarro cue, a signal reliable neither for toxicity nor for nutrition.” – Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic
We love sour. Which brings us to this, the best eggplant dish you’ve ever had, perhaps the only eggplant dish you need. It’s time for a salad that strikes a balance of sweet, sour and umami where eggplant is the star. It’s time for caponata.
A cooked Sicilian salad with a cornucopia of salty, briny pickle-y things. Our favourite is the version from Naples, Italy called Cianfatta, which makes use of the deliciousness of capers and olives. Zucchini, red pepper, basil and currants are added for a final dish that sparkles with sweet, sour and salty delights.
Caperberries are fun to use in place of regular capers. Both come from the same plant but the berries are larger and can be sliced into thin rounds. Their inner flesh is reminiscent of a ripe fig and they look beautiful scattered among the bright green zucchini and dark purple eggplant. And the lighter purple of Japanese eggplant works well too. This is a nice salad any time of year but especially when the yellow zucchini are around. That bright yellow adds another bright point in an already vibrant creation. Feel free to mess around!
1 Italian eggplant, medium cube, or a Japanese eggplant
2 regular zucchini, medium cube (or 1 green and 1 yellow)
cherry tomatoes, a few handfuls
good olive oil
red wine vinegar
1/4 cup currants
1/2 cup of green olives, pitted and chopped
5 caperberries, sliced into rounds
1/2 a red pepper, small dice
1 roasted pepper, chopped
1 shallot (or 1/2 a red onion) sliced into thin rounds
- Add currants, olives, capers, red pepper, roasted pepper and sliced shallots to your salad bowl.
- Get a pan nice and hot and add some oil. Slide in your zucchini cut side down. We like a barely cooked zucchini for this salad. Just let it sit in the hot oil and get some colour and then scoop it out of the pan and into the salad bowl.
- Fry the eggplant in batches, never overcrowding so you get some nice brown colour on it. Cook the eggplant thoroughly until it’s soft, it takes a bit longer to cook. You will have to keep adding more oil as the eggplant really sucks it up, but just add a drizzle at a time.
- Put the cooked eggplant in mixing bowl.
- Toss the cherry tomatoes into the still hot pan. They can cook for a bit to soften, then put those in the bowl as well.
- Splash in some red wine vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Taste it. Can you taste the slight hit of vinegar? If not add a bit more. You want to taste the zing!
- There should be enough olive oil in there already from the zucchini and eggplant but add a splash more if you think it’s needed. This is a loose recipe, rely on your eyeballs and your tongue as you mix it up. You want to be tasting as you go along.
- Toss with some torn basil leaves and leave it alone. Let sit for a bit to let all those flavours mingle, then serve at room temperature.