Give a Greek person a vegetable, any vegetable, and they will transform it into a mouthwatering feast. Summer vegetables, especially succulent tomatoes hardly require any exhaustive transformation because they are just so delicious - all you need is a little oil and vinegar. However, in this traditional Zakynthian dish, summer tomatoes combine with the humble eggplant and a lot of garlic to make a truly spectacular dish.
If you were in Napoli, the garlic in this dish would be replaced with oozy mozzarella cheese and dustings of parmigiano reggiano. In Greek cuisine, there are strict (albeit unsaid) rules when it comes to using cheese. Hard cheeses are for eating at the table, with along with a generous bowl of olives. Soft cheeses, like feta, are crumbled into pies or a large slices adorn salads. Rarely are cheeses used in vegetable dishes - perhaps this comes from the tradition of fasting in the Greek orthodox church. In the long fasting months leading up to Christmas and Easter creative cooks had to develop plenty of dairy, meat and egg free dishes. Hence dishes such as 'eggplants smothered in garlic' were born!
Eggplants smothered in garlic (Μελιτζανες σκορδοστουμπι οπως στο Τζαντε)
Serves 4-6; cooking time 45 minutes (plus 1 hour to salt the eggplants)
6 large eggplants
4 water glasses of freshly grated tomato
1 tsp. honey or petimezi
1 tsp. Greek wine vinegar
Bukovo chilli flakes
1 head of chopped garlic
Salt and pepper
1. Cut the eggplant into thick slices. Salt them and leave them for about 1 hour to remove the excess moisture and bitterness. After 1 hour, rise of the salt and pat the eggplant dry with paper towels.
2. Place a fry pan on medium heat and add a little olive oil. Add the eggplant and fry until lightly browned. Drain the fried eggplant on paper towels to remove any excess oil. Alternatively, you brush the eggplant with a little olive oil and grill on an outdoor barbeque (this makes the final dish much less greasy.) Again, drain the grilled eggplant on paper towels to remove any excess oil.
3. Prepare the sauce: place a fry pan on medium heat and add the grated tomatoes along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the honey and vinegar, bring to the boil and let the sauce cook for 15 minutes or until the oil has cooked down into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Preheat oven to 180C. Using a medium sized oven pan or dish, add one layer of eggplant. Sprinkle with half the garlic and some bukovo chilli flakes. Add a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce to cover. Conintue with the remaining sauce, eggplant, garlic and chilli - finish with a generous tomato sauce layer.