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The best complement for eggplant is some combination of sweet, salty and tangy, like in this caponata with raisins, nuts and capers.
Olive oil for frying
2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup tomato paste
3 fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped
½ cup chopped green olives
1/3 cup raisins
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons capers
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup pine nuts
1 small bunch parsley, chopped, thick stems discarded
Juice of 1 lemon
Put 1½ inches of olive oil in a large, deep pot over medium-high heat. Add a cube of the eggplant to the oil to test whether it's hot enough; the oil should sizzle. Working in batches, add the eggplant and fry, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and fully tender, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, and season with salt.
Carefully strain the oil into a glass container and wipe out the pot. Return cup of the oil to the pan over medium-high heat (reserve the rest for another use), and add the onion, celery, and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly caramelized, about 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomatoes, olives, raisins, vinegar, sugar, capers, crushed red pepper, and ¼ cup water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes begin to break down, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, put the pine nuts in a large skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes.
Turn off the heat under the tomato mixture, and stir in the pine nuts, parsley, lemon juice and eggplant. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cool to room temperature and serve. (Store leftover caponata in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to several days.)
Serves six to eight.
L.V. Anderson, Slate
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