My Babushka (Grandmother in Russian) was a feisty, beautiful, and eccentric woman who made the best Russian & Ukrainian dishes. Her maiden name which she preferred to go by toward the end of her life was Valentina Angelova (1913-2006). She was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and escaped with my Mom who was 4, and her husband during WWII. Making dishes such as this Ikra was nostalgic for her and her way of socializing while sharing her culture. This Ikra- Eggplant Caviar spread recipe was adapted by my Mom and now me. Eggplant Caviar is a vegan spread that can be served as an appetizer or simply spread on toast for a light lunch. I'm enjoying some right on toast as I write this post. At home, we often served eggplant caviar on petit pumpernickel bread just like you would serve actual expensive Beluga caviar. Ikra luckily is much easier on the pocketbook.
My Babushka & this Recipe
My Babushka, Valya (short for Valentina) was a special lady. I am sharing this recipe with my Mom's permission. I think my Babushka will be smiling down on me sharing it with the world. Babushka LOVED to entertain and she lived for sharing her culture and food with others. She was a Russian Language Instructor in Monterey, California for the Defense Language Institute. Her students loved her and she adored them as well. She entertained them often outside school hours. She would invite them to her home to continue practicing Russian and share her love of Russian & Ukrainian cuisine. Ikra is a dish she served to as an appetizer before moving on to a main course like kotlety or borscht. I still recall her out of this world "green borscht" that I hope to add to my site in the future as well.
Entertaining with Food
Russians & Ukrainians love to entertain guests with food. They sing and tell stories over a big meal (and boy, what stories they have, as my Babushka did). No matter how poor they are, they feed you the best they have on hand when you enter their home. I learned that from my travels to Russia. Anytime I visited other Babushka's in Russia, no matter how poor they were, eating just bread, soup and tea, they would pull out the most expensive cookies they had to share with me. Whenever a friend of mine would visit, my Grandmother would feed them her finest dishes. Only the best will do for guests in a Russian's or Ukrainian's home.
What is Eggplant Caviar?
Eggplant Caviar/Ikra is a Vegan vegetable spread made primarily of eggplants and sweet peppers. In Odessa, Ukraine it is also referred to as "Ikra iz Baklazhan" (Икра из Баклажан) which means Caviar made of eggplants. I have been told it looks similar to caponata, but I have never had an authentic caponata. Although many ingredients are quite different.
Ikra is zesty, or as my Mom and Babushka used to say, it has a little "bite." This "bite" is not spicy, it's more of a slight zing from the vinegar or lemon juice and some bite from the garlic. My grandmother did put raw garlic in her Ikra sometimes, but that's a little hard for some to tolerate, so I just give mine a quick cook to mellow it out just a tad, but not lose the bite. My husband especially loves this recipe and says he can't describe the taste, but like me we both just say Mmm quietly as we take a bite. It's definitely a foodie's kind of spread. For some, an acquired taste I'd say.
How to Make Ikra
Ikra is made by roasting eggplants and sweet peppers. For added sweetness, onions are caramelized while the vegetables are roasting. This vegetarian spread has a bit of a lengthier process, but that's exactly how many Slavic recipes are. They take a bit of work to make, and the recipes make a big batch (because why waste your time unless you make enough to share), but it's so worth it! The payoff is the taste. The wow factor when you take your first bite is worth every minute you spent making it.
Variations of Ikra
There really is no right or wrong way to make Ikra. Ikra does vary by the location it originated from and as many worldly recipes it has morphed over time; passed from one hand to another. I've seen recipes include carrots, zucchini, parsley and even jalapenos, but I have no idea how that came about. My Mom told me that this variation of eggplant caviar is distinctly "Southern." This is most likely again, due to the fact that my Babushka is from Odessa, Ukraine which is pretty far South for the former Soviet Union, highly Russian influenced area.
The Roasting of the Vegetables and Onion Caramelization is done simultaneously
Why is Caviar in the Name?
Eggplant caviar is like the poor man's caviar. No there is not actual caviar in it. As most Russian & Ukrainian recipes they originate from common folk who cook with what they have on hand. The "meat" of the eggplant is not pretty at all, it's actually quite ugly and colorless. When you finish preparing Ikra, the rich colors elevate the look. It looks like you prepared an expensive condiment. It screams, "Look at me, place me on a fine cracker or petite bread." Ok, maybe not, but to me it does.
I want to show it off and present it in a more fanciful way. After you put all that effort into your Ikra, it deserves a "stage," a pretty serving platter and guests to enjoy it. When you taste it, just pause to enjoy the deep flavors that sing in your mouth. Call me crazy, but that's how rich I think eggplant caviar tastes. Right up there with Beluga. Wink.
If you want to get really fancy, I just discovered these great little French toasts at the store when I was making this Ikra and it goes beautifully with this spread. They practically dissolve in your mouth when you bite into them. They're so good!! Also, As I mentioned above, Ikra is also great on little Pumpernickel toasts. A French baguette sliced up goes great as well.
Ikra - Eggplant Caviar Spread Ingredients
- Eggplants- Eggplants are the star of the dish. They are meaty and flavorful. In Ikra, after roasting the eggplants, you just want to make sure you drain out the liquid really well as the liquid in the eggplant is a bit bitter and we want more sweetness than bitterness in Ikra.
- Sweet Peppers- Some Ikra recipes do not call for sweet peppers, but my family's recipes has always included them. The peppers give this recipe a nice subtle sweetness and complexity in flavor. After roasting and sweating them out, you need to peel them, then chop it up.
- Sweet Onion- The onions are sautéed in olive oil, low and slow while you are roasting the vegetables. The slow and low cook while stirring often caramelizes the onion giving it a sweet flavor for your Ikra.
- Garlic- Garlic is very important in the recipe. We love garlic and it's what gives this spread a little edge, a little bite that will excite your palate. My Babushka & Mom put raw garlic in it sometimes, but it's a bit harsh for some palates, so I just give the garlic a really quick, 30 second to 1 min cook at the end of cooking my onions. I suggest 4-5 large garlic cloves, pressed.
- Olive Oil- As my Babushka always said, use only your best Olive Oil for Ikra. Afterall, it is called, "caviar." I use a cold pressed extra virgin olive or any other Organic Italian olive oil for this recipe.
- Apple Cider Vinegar or Lemon Juice- Either of these will work great to give you the acidity needed to balance out this delicious condiment. You can use about 1-2 Tablespoons to taste.
- Ketchup- Yes, I know it sounds wild, but it's true. Both my Mom & Babushka always added ketchup to taste as a last step and it's great that way! I always try to use ketchup without HFCS though and organic, but that's just my preference.
If you like this type of recipe you might like these as well!
I hope you give Ikra a try and if you love it like I do, please share a photo of yours on Instagram & tag us @WholeMadeLiving. Priyatnovo Appetita!
Ikra Eggplant Caviar Spread (My Babushka's Recipe-Икра)
- 3 whole Eggplants washed & dried (About 3 lbs.)
- 3 large sweet peppers washed & dried
- 1 large sweet onion diced (about ½ lb.)
- 5 oz fresh dill This is one of the small packs of dill in the produce section, de-stemmed & chopped
- 2-3 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil divided
- 4-5 cloves garlic pressed
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoon concentrated tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar or Lemon Juice
- ¼ to ½ cup Ketchup Babushka's "secret" ingredient
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Prep Eggplants & Peppers for Roasting- Make 1 slit down each eggplant, about 1 inch deep lengthwise down each eggplant (This allows the eggplants to steam without bursting during roasting) Place eggplants & peppers on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Once the oven is up to temp place the baking sheet in the oven.
- Roasting Vegetables - Bake the peppers for about 45 minutes and the eggplants for about 1 hr. ***Eggplant Roasting time will vary, depending on the sizes of the eggplants. You want the eggplants to collapse when you depress them with a wooden spoon. If they are not roasted enough the skin will not peel off the meat of the eggplant as well *** You will be turning the vegetables often, the best thing to do is set yourself 15 minute timers to remind yourself to turn them. (While the vegetables are roasting you can cook up the onion)
- Heat up a skillet to medium heat to cook the onion.
- Caramelize Onion - Once the skillet is heated up, add 2 tablespoon of olive oil, turn down the heat to medium low, lower it more later if it browns your onion too quickly. Start cooking the onion. You want to cook the onion low and slow to caramelize and sweeten them. I cook them during the entire time the peppers roast, so about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they do not burn. It will not hurt if you leave the onions cooking on low, still caramelizing while you tend to the peppers for a couple minutes at this point.
- Sweating Pepper Process - Once the peppers are done roasting they will be collapsed and slightly charred. Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel or saran wrap. The peppers will sweat, causing the skin to start separating easily from the pepper.
- Finalize Onion Mixture - Once you get your peppers into the sweating process you can finish up your onion mixture. Add the tomato paste and just cook it into the onions for just a minute. Then add the pressed garlic right into the skillet and give it just a quick cook for 30 secs to 1 minute. Remove onion mixture from heat and scrape all of the goodness straight into a medium size mixing bowl you will be mixing and storing your Ikra in.
- Chop Dill & Gather Final Ingredients - While you're waiting on the peppers to finish sweating you can wash and chop the dill and then add the dill to the bowl with the onion mixture. Also, just gather and measure out your final ingredients if you have not done so already.
- Draining Eggplants - Once the eggplants are done roasting, turn off the oven and use tongs to move them to a large colander over a sink or bowl where they can drain. Place them slit side down in the colander so that the eggplant juice can drain out. The juice is slightly bitter so you want to drain out as much as possible.
- Skin & Chop Peppers - Once peppers are done sweating, the skin should start peeling off fairly easily. After at least 15 minutes you can start trying to peel the skin off the peppers 1 by 1 (some peppers can take up to 30 minutes) If they are not peeling well yet, give them another 15 minutes under the towel. I use disposable gloves for this process. They help your skin from getting too hot and you get better grip to peel the peppers. Once you get all the skin peeled off, cut off the tops of the peppers, and chop up the peppers into very small pieces and add it to your Ikra mixing bowl.
- Skin & Chop Eggplant - Once you feel most of the liquid has drained out of the eggplants you should be able to easily remove the skin, cut off the tops and chop up the rest of the eggplants. I cut it one way all the way through each piece and the opposite direction. Keep chopping until you feel it is all in tiny caviar sized chunks, seeds and all. Add the eggplant to your Ikra bowl.
- Finalize your Seasoning/Ikra - This dish has character, so don't be shy spicing it up to your liking. At this stage I add the salt, pepper, vinegar or lemon juice (your choice) Babushka's "secret" ingredient...Ketchup. Yes, My Mom and my Babushka always added Ketchup to their Ikra. Add ¼-1/2 cup to your liking. Some people add a little more olive oil as well, but that's up to you. I usually don't need to at this point. Adjust salt & pepper if needed. The final taste should have a little "bite" and little sweetness and a little tang and hopefully you're smiling! =)