There are two main ways to preserve eggplant—in vinegar and in oil. Since eggplant isn’t a low-acid food, to keep your jar of pickled eggplant out of the fridge before opening, you’ll need to drown it in vinegar. This lowers the pH and makes it safe for canning. But what about those recipes that soak it in oil? cry Italians. Italians have been preserving eggplant in oil for centuries, eating the salted and vinegar-infused antipasto throughout the following year. But because oil-based, low-acid mixtures support growth of the dreaded Clostridium botulinum (bacteria that causes botulism), the US Food and Drug Administration says that eggplant shouldn’t be canned in oil at home. And if stored in oil in the fridge without canning—especially if there’s garlic involved—the FDA recommends eating the entire batch within mere days, noting that other harmful bacteria such as listeria can develop after only three weeks of refrigeration. More often than not, nobody dies.
Vinegar is, however, a much safer method than oil, but besides the inconvenience of possible death, it also quickly overwhelms the mild sweetness of the eggplant. How, then, to best preserve the delicate flavour of the deep purple beauties?
By choosing your vinegar wisely. Red, white wine and balsamic vinegars are better than distilled white if your goal is to not end up with wrinkled lips. Champagne, Sherry, and rice wine vinegars are generally even less puckering. As long as the vinegar has 5% acetic acid, you can substitute any type for another in a pickle recipe. Since this series isn’t about Nonna’s preserves, the following recipe tends to the east of Italy. But it pairs well with Italian salami and other cured meats.
Middle Eastern Spiced Eggplant Pickle
Makes four 500mL jars
Sterilize canning jars and rings by boiling them in a large canning pot of water for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and keep pot covered and hot until needed. Toss eggplant with 1 tbsp salt in a large bowl. Transfer to colander, cover with paper towel, and let drain 30 minutes. Rinse eggplant in cold water, drain, and dry well. Bring vinegar to a boil in a large saucepan. Add eggplant and simmer 3 minutes. Remove eggplant with slotted spoon to a large bowl, reserving the vinegar. Combine eggplant with remaining 1 tbsp salt and the rest of the ingredients.
Soften 4 jar lids in hot, but not boiling, water for 5 minutes. Remove jars from water and pack with eggplant mixture. Bring vinegar back to a boil and pour over eggplant to ½-inch from the top of the jars. Remove air bubbles with a chopstick or other non-metallic, long, thin utensil.
Add more vinegar, if necessary, to return liquid to ½-inch from the top. Wipe rims, apply softened lids, and process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes, starting the timer when the water returns to a boil. Remove from canner and let cool. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.
S.Pellegrino and Food for Soul, the non-profit organisation founded by Lara Gilmore and chef Massimo Bottura, form a new global partnership to drive social and environmental change and promote a sustainable food culture.