I have a culinary confession: I'm not normally a huge fan of pickled foods. Pickled baby corn—kind of weird. Pickled beets—yuck. Pickled eggs—not in a thousand lifetimes. But when I was offered berenjenas en escabeche on my very first trip to Argentina, I freely sampled the dish in the spirit of gastronomic and cultural open-mindedness (well, plus the fact that I didn't know what "en escabeche" meant at the time). I did, however, realize that eggplant was involved, and that alone seemed to be enough of a selling point.
Pickled eggplant (also known as berenjenas en conserva or a la vinagreta) has roots in both Spanish and Italian cuisine, later making its way into the kitchens of Argentina via the massive wave of immigration from both of these countries. The dish is commonly served as an accompaniment to grilled meats at an asado (Argentine-style barbecue), as part of a picada, or all by itself on some crusty bread.
In spite of its vinegary bite—or dare I say because of it—I discovered that I am rather fond of pickled eggplant. While I don't view this as the start of any sort of pickling addiction, I'm pleased to have this recipe in my arsenal of Argentine goodies.
Pickled Eggplant | Berenjenas en Escabeche
2 pounds eggplant, peeled
¼ cup kosher salt
3 cups water
1 ½ cups white vinegar
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon ají molido or crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
approx. 1 ½ cups sunflower or other vegetable oil
Slice the eggplant lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices, then cut the slices into ¼-inch-wide sticks. Toss the eggplant with the salt, and place in a colander set over a bowl [the eggplant will release a dark, bitter liquid] at room temperature for 4 hours.
Gently squeeze handfuls of eggplant to remove any remaining liquid. Bring the water and vinegar to a boil in a medium, non-reactive pot. Add the eggplant and boil, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, then set the colander over a bowl and cover the eggplant with a plate and a weight. Continue to drain, covered and chilled, for 4 more hours. Pat dry with paper towels.
In a clean, 1-quart jar with a tight-fitting lid, pack the eggplant in layers, sprinkling the garlic, oregano, peppercorns and crushed red pepper between each layer. When the jar is about half full, tuck the bay leaves in between the eggplant and the side of the jar so they're visible from the outside and continue alternating layers of eggplant and spices until the jar is full. Add enough oil to completely cover the eggplant. Gently tap the jar on the countertop a few times to release trapped air bubbles. Seal the jar and place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 days prior to eating to allow the flavors to marry and the vinegar to mellow a bit.
The pickled eggplant keeps, stored in the refrigerator, for up to 1 month.
Recipe updated on June 8, 2012
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