This salad doesn’t really have a name so I’ve somewhat unimaginatively used its three key ingredients for the title. Eggplants are often underrated as a salad ingredient to be eaten cold, but not so in Italy where they are abundant, inexpensive and very versatile. The Italian melanzana is smaller and much less bitter than the larger American globe variety and as a result there is no additional preparation required to salt them and then wait until some of the liquid is purged.
The eggplants and chickpeas combine to make this a more substantial dish than a normal salad, requiring only some fresh bread to be perfect for dinner on a hot Italian summer evening. There are many different variations of this salad but the combination we prefer is as follows:
Ingredients for 2 people:
1 can of cooked chickpeas
2 small eggplants
3 ripe Canestrino or Cuore di Bue tomatoes
1 or 2 cucumbers
1 sweet white or red onion (chopped finely and pre-soaked in a water and vinegar solution if a milder taste is preferred)
1 or 2 limes or lemons
handful of fresh parsley and/or fresh basil, chopped
olives denocciolate (optional)
2 or 3 diced friggitelli (small Italian sweet peppers)
extra virgin Italian olive oil and red wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
(Za’atar and preserved lemon also go well with this dish as do a scattering of sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
1. Chop the eggplants into 1 inch cubes, salt well and put them into a bowl with a generous amount of olive oil. Mix the eggplant pieces by hand so they’re all well oiled then spread them out on a baking sheet in a single level and put the tray in the oven, pre-heated to 190 celsius (375 F) with a timer set for about 25 minutes.
2. Before dicing the cucumbers, cut them lengthwise and scrape out the central core of seeds and liquid. Discard also the seeds and excess liquid from the tomatoes (Canestrino or Cuore di Bue will have very little). This task may seen unnecessary and a bit fiddly but if you use a top quality olive oil as we do then you don’t really want its flavor diluted by all the watery mess from the cucumbers and tomatoes and furthermore it will make the eggplants soggy, so it’s well worth a bit of extra effort to get the best consitency and taste out of this salad.
3. In a large bowl mix together the chickpeas (after discarding the liquid in the can), diced cucumbers and tomatoes, friggitelli, olives and parsley and/or basil. Once cooled add the aubergine pieces together with the Za’atar and preserved lemon if using.
4. Dress the salad with salt, pepper, a little red wine vinegar, lime juice and a generous pour of good olive oil. Mix well, taste again and leave in the fridge to chill a little and to allow the flavors to blend well. Serve with freshly baked bread.