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Turkish Eggplant Salad

"There are at least forty different eggplant dishes in Turkish cuisine," says Feyza Sayman, teacher, translator, and excellent cook. "Have you ever had eggplant jam?" I had not. But because it was spring, and an especially warm one at that, Mrs. Sayman said the jam would have to wait for winter. For now, she offered a cool eggplant salad.

Mrs. Sayman, who is strikingly beautiful and who carries herself in a way which can only be described as regal, informed me that some of her recipes come from the royal cuisine of the Ottomans, a time when cooks in the royal palace competed to create something new.

Though she was born in Istanbul, Mrs. Sayman lived in many places In Turkey, which gave her access to varied cuisines. She earned a degree in mathematics and taught high school for a while. In 1979 she, her physicist husband, and their daughter immigrated to Ypsilanti, Michigan where Mr. Sayman teaches at Eastern Michigan University; Mrs. Sayman is a translator for the University of Michigan library.

In Istanbul there are many restaurants simply named "Meat," which gives an indication of how important meat, particularly lamb, is in Turkish cuisine. But eggplant is equally important, an ingredient to test cooks' imagination.

I have to confess that I've never liked eggplant. It has always seemed a rather spongelike oddity, tasting faintly bitter. Its beauty for me has been its raw, violet presence — something to admire without eating. But after I prepared Mrs. Sayman's eggplant salad and shared it with some friends, I had to change my mind. The salad, which is light and perfect in warm weather (we ate it with grilled chicken and couscous), showed me how good eggplant can taste. I can only imagine that the Ottoman royal court would agree.

Turkish Eggplant Salad

Serves: 6
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

3 medium-sized eggplants
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tomatoes, chopped
5 green onions (scallions), chopped
1 jalapeno pepper (optional), seeded and diced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
18 olives, preferably Kalamata

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise. Lightly brush them with olive oil and put them on a baking pan, skin side down. Cook the eggplants until they are golden brown and soft to the touch, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, onions and jalapeno.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley, and garlic. Slowly whisk in the remaining olive oil to make a dressing.
5. Peel the outer skin of the eggplants, chop them and add to the tomato mixture.
6. Carefully toss the eggplant mixture with the dressing, add the olives and chill. The salad is best after it has been refrigerated for 6 hours or overnight.

Nutrition Facts (per serving):

Calories: 300
Total Fat : 20 grams
Saturated Fat: 3 grams
Sodium: 450 milligrams
Dietary Fiber: 10 grams
% Calories from fat: 55%
% calories from saturated fat: 8%

By Bich Minh Nguyen

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