May is International Mediterranean Diet Month, so get your Med party started with caponata. Or imam bayeldi. They’re just two of the many eggplant dishes beloved throughout the Mediterranean, from Italy to Istanbul.
Caponata and imam bayeldi both take eggplant, abundant all over the Mediterranean, slow-cook it till it creates melt-in-your-mouth magic, then team it up with other summer vegetables. They’re somewhere between a spread and a salad, and without making a big deal of it, they’re good for you.
The idea for Mediterranean Diet Month comes courtesy of the nonprofit Oldways, connecting traditional regional cuisines and their nutritional benefits. Mediterranean dishes like these eggplant-intense ones make it delicious and easy. They’re exuberantly spiced, veg-friendly and rich in fresh, seasonal, local produce, like eggplant. Loaded with antioxidants and fiber, eggplant may not have the nutritional bona fides of kale, but it has a meaty texture that makes it naturally satisfying
Sicilian caponata is made with eggplant, tomato, capers (which gives the dish its name), celery, olives, a splash of vinegar for brightness and another Mediterranean mainstay, silky, peppery, heart-healthy olive oil, for gorgeous texture. A 2-tablespoon serving of Flora eggplant caponata (10 ounces, $3.99), enough for a sizable dollop on crostini, contains 76 calories, 8 grams fat, 180 milligrams sodium, no fiber or protein.
Imam bayeldi, Turkey’s spin on caponata, loses the capers but keeps the lusciousness. The name means the imam fainted with pleasure. Zergut (19 ounces, $4.99) makes a version rich with roasted eggplant, tomato, onions and garlic, mashed with olive oil into creaminess. It also contains a fair amount of salt. A generous 2⁄3 cup serving (no wonder the imam fainted) contains 130 calories, 12 grams fat, 450 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber and 2 grams protein.
Given America’s appetite for salsa and hummus, it seems like time for Mediterranean marvels like caponata and imam bayeldi to shine. They’ve got the garlicky zing of hummus, the tangy, harvest-fresh vegetable boldness of salsa and the excellence of eggplant.
Makes: 6 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 eggplant, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon allspice
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 handful fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1⁄4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional but very nice)
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, garlic, onion and jalapeno, and cook, stirring, until vegetables soften, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and allspice. Reduce heat to medium and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender and the tomatoes have thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with sea salt and fresh pepper. Remove from heat and stir in chopped parsley and optional pine nuts.
Per serving: 95 calories (43 percent from fat), 4.8 g fat (0.7 g saturated, 3.3 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 1.8 g protein, 12.3 g carbohydrate, 3.8 g fiber, 143 mg sodium.
• Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”