Rich and meaty with a dash of heat, Romani Eggplant Chickpea Stew is straight from my grandmother’s kitchen. Braised tomatoes, peppers and chickpeas in a hearty broth with roasted eggplant, handfuls of herbs and the surprising crunch of walnuts.
Eggplant and chickpeas, it’s a combination relevant throughout the Mediterranian and deep into the Eastern Block in the countries that lay between the middle east and Russia, surrounding the Black Sea. Ingredients, heat and depth of flavour vary greatly, but the result is surprisingly similar as you cross border after border.
Been feeling nostalgic of late, craving a flavour that is as much familiar as it is foreign. This is my maternal grandmother’s Romani Eggplant Chickpea Stew, as it was taught to her, by her mother. In tracing its culinary roots it leans Georgian, towards a dish called ‘Ajapsandali’, an eggplant stew that’s served with tomatoey, slow-cooked bulgar wheat.
It seemed somehow fitting in these long, dark days of winter to feast on summer’s harvest, but this is a dish you can serve any time of year. I even like it cold, with good olive oil and crusty bread in mid-summer.
The name of the blog, Food Gypsy, is a nod to my Romani Great-Grandmother, Rosalie. She and her sister immigrated to Canada in 1928 as mail-order brides. A far cry from her traditional travellers’ routes that chart from southern Russia through the Ukraine and Romania and downward into Turkey.
Hers was not an easy life, marked by tragedy and poverty, but her spirit embraced adventure. She was beautiful, even as an older woman, with dark eyes and auburn hair that she wore in a low knot at the back of her neck. Much of her Romani culture was lost in an effort to assimilate to a new land but the food of her people remained, steaming the insides of windows and warming the bellies of those who gathered at her table.
How to Prepare Eggplant
It’s amazing how many people think they don’t like eggplant. For some, it’s a texture thing, for others it’s the bitterness. To those folks, I say what I always say: maybe you haven’t had a good one! Conversion often takes place over a dish like Mousakka, where the eggplant is meaty, smooth and creamy instead of watery and bitter. The difference? Salt and time.
Think of eggplant as a little vegetable balloon. The tough skin holds all its moist, juicy insides together in one purple, spongy, tear-dropped-shaped nightshade. When we slice, salt and allow the eggplant to stand, tiny beads of moisture begin to bubble up. Dry those droplets with a paper towel and we remove some of the excess moisture, which allows it to hold firmer when grilling, frying or roasting, for a smoother consistency.
Some say that along with that excess water, salting your eggplant “removes” bitterness. The truth is salt, fat and heat naturally make food making it more mellow and sweet. Many chefs will rinse the salt off, but I find that makes eggplant soggy once again and repellant to oil, so I use less salt and simply pat it dry with paper towel and roast. This way it’s pre-seasoned and ready to cook.
An improvement in technique to the traditional recipe, which would have been cooked over an open fire in a big, castiron pot with the eggplant dissolving slowly, to add body to the sauce. To remove bitterness Grandma would often add sugar. Instead, we add nice, firm eggplant to my grandmother’s Romani Eggplant Chickpea Stew for meaty, hearty results. The only thing missing is the smell of her wood-fired stove.
Wander when you can. Embrace adventure, and eat plants, daily!
Rich and meaty with a dash of heat, Romani Eggplant Chickpea Stew, straight from my grandmother’s kitchen. Braised tomatoes, peppers and chickpeas in a hearty broth with roasted eggplant, handfuls of herbs and the surprising crunch of walnuts.
2 eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch slabs
4 garlic cloves, crushed or diced fine
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
2 red onions, halved and finely sliced
3 red/yellow peppers, roughly chopped
1 green pepper, roughly chopped
2 hot chilis, halved and finely chopped (optional)
4 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 – 439g (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
2cups vegetable/chicken stock, or water
1/2 teaspoon sugar (if needed)
1/2cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4cup cilantro, roughly chopped, divided
1/4cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1/4cup flat-leaf parsley roughly chopped,
salt and pepper – to taste
Pre-heat oven to 400°f (205°C). Arrange eggplant slices flat on a baking rack over a sheet pan and salt liberally. Allow to stand about 15 minutes, while preparing the rest of the vegetables needed, then remove excess moisture now drawn to the surface by the salt with paper towels. Chop eggplant into chunky cubes, toss with a liberal amount of olive oil, salt and pepper and distribute evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast at 400°f (205°C) for about 20 minutes, turning at the ten-minute make to get even colour, then remove from the oven and rest until needed.
In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat start your sauce with a good measure of olive oil. Sautee your shallots, until lightly coloured, for about 3 minutes. Then add garlic and sweat, for about 2 minutes. Next, add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until it goes from a dark red to amber-orange. Add both paprika and cumin then add red onions, toss and cook for 2 minutes. NOTE: Reduce heat if anything starts to burn, controlling your heat is essential.
Now add your vegetables in quick succession; peppers, tomatoes, chickpeas and chili peppers then gently turn to combine. Add stock, reduce heat to medium-low. Stir to combine then cover with a tight-fitting lid, or tin foil, and braise for about ten minutes.
By the time your vegetables are beginning to get tender, the eggplant should be roasted. At this point; check seasoning and adjust salt and pepper to taste. If you’re preparing ahead of time, this dish can hold for the day until you’re ready to serve and finish, or even fridge and hold for a day, as part of a make-ahead meal.
To finish; add walnuts, and fresh herbs, mix and serve immediately. Perfect as a vegan/vegetarian main or as a side with roasted or grilled meats.
If your Romani Eggplant Chickpea Stew is too loose or watery you can either a) turn up your heat and boil off some liquid or b) add a quick cornstarch slurry (1 – 2 teaspoons cornstarch with about a tablespoon of water) over high heat to thicken. This dish should be thick and have a smooth, clean sauce that’s never greasy.
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.