You can find this dip throughout the Caucasus and the rest of the former Soviet Union, where it’s often called “eggplant caviar.” Creative branding, to be sure, since it tastes nothing like fish eggs and costs a fraction of the price. Maybe the eggplant seeds reminded someone of sturgeon roe, or eating it made the plebes feel like kings.
I first encountered this dip in Russia, where college students buy it in jars from the grocery store and eat it on slices of dense, tangy black bread with caraway seeds–a sort of Slavic equivalent of a peanut butter sandwich. It even comes in a creamy variety (like this recipe) and a chunky one (more of a salad). Later, I made a variation of it with my friend Inna for her son’s birthday party. Her husband Gena lit up the grill in the backyard, skewered whole eggplants on sharp iron rods, and let them roast over the open flame until they glistened and oozed drippings into the grill box. Inna and her mother-in-law let them cool in a bowl of salted water, then beat the smoky pulp to a smooth paste and added tomatoes, oil, herbs, and spices to make a dipping sauce for the shishkebabs Gena was still grilling out back.
This version is my own. You can mix up the herbs you use, add a squeeze of lemon juice or a drizzle oil over the top of the bowl if you like, or throw in a handful of pomegranate seeds if you really want to play up the caviar analogy.
Eggplant-Pomegranate Dip (Badrijnis Khizilala)
Makes about 1 ½ cups
1 large globe eggplant or 3 of the smaller, narrower kind (Asian or Italian)
¼ cup pomegranate juice
2 Tbsp. olive or walnut oil
¼ cup fresh mixed cilantro and dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ tsp. kosher salt
Dash crushed red pepper flakes
- Prepare the grill or preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prick the eggplant in several places with a fork and place it on the grill grate or on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Grill or bake the eggplant until its skin wrinkles and it collapses into itself. In the oven, this takes about 45 minutes. The flesh should be totally soft by this point. Allow to cool, then scrape out the flesh into the bowl of a food processor.* Discard skin and stem.
- Add the other ingredients into the food processor and pulse until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Serve with bread, pita chips, crackers, or vegetables.
*Note: You could also use an immersion blender to puree the dip.