Eggplant in saor is delicious. It’s also an excellent warm-weather dinner solution when it’s too hot to turn on the stove. It’s basically eggplants marinated with lots of vinegar and some onions, nuts, and raisins, with an added punch of spice. Prepare the dish after the sun sets, in the cool evening air, and let it rest through the heat of the day, for an easy-breezy stove-less dinner the following night.
This recipe is mouth-puckeringly rich in fresh vinegar. Think of the heat-quenching talent of a tall glass of lemonade. This is a little like that, but savory. Vinegar shows up abundantly in Italian cooking. Before refrigeration, its acidity was relied on to preserve foods, much like a pickle. From the vinegar pickled vegetables of giardiniera to scapece, fried and marinated zucchini from Naples, not to mention, precious all hail balsamic. There is a lot of vinegar in Italian cooking.
This dish is a rift on sardines (sarde) in saor, a classic Venetian cicchetti. Saor means taste in the Venetian dialect and this dish has a lot of taste. Cicchetti is Venice’s answer to street food or tapas, basically small eats that are easy to come by. You can eat cicchetti as a snack, or a side dish, or gather a collection of these tasty plates to make a meal.
While sardines in saor is classic, I’d read that it could also be made with vegetables. A lot of folks propose replacing sardines with eggplant, an eggplant in saor if you will, so I thought I’d give it a go. I admittedly don’t cook sardines a lot, but I do cook eggplant often. I fried my eggplant, but you could also just as easily grill it.
I served it with couscous. While couscous may not seem Italian, couscous has been a traditional staple of Sicilian cooking since Arabs ruled the island from 837 to 902 AD. Bonus tip, you can easily prepare couscous without turning on the stove. Instead of cooking the couscous in boiling water, just soak it in cold water in a 1:2 ratio (1 cup of couscous to 2 cups of water). Cover and let it rest for an hour or so until the texture is right. Fluff with a fork. If there is too much water, just pour the extra off.
Eggplant in saor
- 2-3 eggplants, skin on, sliced in thick rounds or vertically into thick slabs
- 1 white onion, thinly sliced
- 1 whole clove, crushed
- 1 teaspoon of whole coriander, crushed
- A pinch of cinnamon
- Fresh black pepper
- 1 cup of white wine vinegar
- A handful of raisins
- A small glass of white wine
- 1 handful of chopped pistachios or whole pine nuts. Pine nuts are classic, but I didn’t have any and found the pistachios to be tasty.
- Olive oil
- Fry the eggplant in olive oil and place it on a towel to drain some oil (or grill it).
- Meanwhile, soak the raisins in white wine to soften.
- Cook the onion in olive oil until transparent. I used the same pan as I cooked the eggplant in.
- Add the cinnamon, clove, coriander, and some fresh black pepper and cook for a minute or so.
- And the vinegar and cook for several minutes more.
- Line the bottom of a small serving dish with a layer of eggplants. Top with some of the onions, raisins, and nuts. Top with another layer of eggplant and then more onions, raisins, and nuts, and continue to layer until you’ve used all the eggplant. The final layer should be onions, raisins, and nuts.
- Pour the vinegar on top.
- Cover and let rest in the refrigerator over night.