“Diana Kochhilas is my goddess in all things Greek and food,” said Beth, an American friend who I had met during a Greek language course in Athens some years ago. “Go and buy her book, The Glorious Foods of Greece. It will completely change how you look at Greek food.” Her words were powerful indeed and I put the book on my mental wish list. I was a college graduate at the time, without much money so I’m ashamed to admit that I finally purchased it, in Greek, six years later.
Since that time, Dianna has instructed me how to make meat pie from Ioaninna, Onion-Tomato Pie with Walnuts from Thraki, and a delectable Hortopita (greens pie) from Roumeli. I just realized that I only named pies on that list…apparently, I like pies…a lot. But The Glorious Foods of Greece includes recipes for all sorts of Greek foods and is a great resource for ways of preparing regional Greek produce. I paged through it after Saturday’s worrisome news about Greece and realized that I was in no mood to cook anything elaborate for dinner. As I mentioned here, I had thought I’d make something humble, like baked eggplants. After browsing the book for a while, I stumbled on a recipe for Eggplants skordostoumbi. Skordostoumbi is a vinegary, tomato-garlic sauce traditional to many Greek islands’ cuisine. It is sweet with a slight tang and often serves as a condiment for meat. I read the recipe. It was uncomplicated and the ingredient list short. I would only need to buy some fresh eggplants and tomatoes. Perfect.
In Diana’s recipe, eggplant rounds are lightly fried in oil and layered in the garlicky sauce. I love the depth garlic adds to food and in the original recipe, I find that it contributes to some of the sauce’s sweetness. For my taste, though, I found amount—8-10 cloves—a bit powerful. In my version below, I’ve reduced it and added it near the end of sauce’s cooking time. I think this preserves the sauce’s richness while minimizing the potency.
That night Spyros and I smeared bits of the softened, sauced eggplants onto crispy-skinned roast chicken while watching news updates about possible capital controls. Despite our low spirits, we both went back to the kitchen for seconds. I considered this a success. The next day, we served the leftovers with my mother-in-law’s whole wheat pappardelle, dusted with cheese. The eggplant’s flavors had ripened after one day in the fridge and between sips of sour Greek wine, we felt cheerful. Thank you, Diana Kochilas, for helping me to remember what I love about Greece.
Baked Eggplant Skordostoumbi
3 large eggplants, sliced into rounds about ¼-inch thick
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6-7 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 6-8 medium tomatoes, grated
3 tablespoons sherry or red-wine vinegar
1/2-1 teaspoon sugar
- Layer the eggplant rounds in a strainer, lightly salting each between each level. Put a plate and a heavy item like a pot on top of the eggplants to press out any liquid and set aside for 1 hour. Wash and pat dry with paper towels.
- Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat and lightly saute the eggplants, until they are lightly browned on both sides, adding more oil when needed. Drain the eggplant on paper towls.
- Heat the oven to 350oF (175oC). In a wide saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and stir in the grated tomatoes, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to a boil and add the garlic, stirring for about a minute. Lower the heat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently and adding a little water if necessary.
- Lightly oil a large, oven-proof baking dish. Arrange the eggplant rounds in the dish and ladle some sauce between each layer (you will have enough eggplant slices for about 2 layers) saving some sauce for the sauce for the top. Sprinkle the top with a little vinegar and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the eggplant softens and absorbs the sauce.
Eggplant Skordostoumbi is best served warm or at room temperature. Served with rice or pasta and a little feta cheese, it makes for a hearty main dish. It also pairs well with roasted meat like pork, beef or chicken.