Eggplant Caponata!

Eggplant is often relegated to two things: eggplant parmesan and ratatouille. Don't get me wrong, I love both (and I'm sure I've blogged about and written recipes for both), but there's much more to the beloved aubergine (French for the gorgeous purple vegetable).

Eggplant is a sponge and absorbs the flavors of anything it's partnered with. It soaks up garlic, wine, tomatoes, herbs, you name it. A chameleon in purple clothing. Nutritionally speaking, eggplant has loads of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients with powerful antioxidant properties. One phytonutrient, nasunin, is found in the purple skin and is a potent free radical scavenger that protects cell membranes from damage.

Caponata is another popular dish featuring eggplant, so I'm not taking a giant leap when it comes to recipe development. BUT, my recipe boasts a thick and rich blend of eggplant, onion, garlic, tomatoes, capers, and red wine vinegar. Right before serving, I fold in basil for a burst of fresh flavor. Traditional caponata is served with pine nuts sprinkled on top but I chose toasted slivered almonds for their sweetness – they pair perfectly with the tanginess of tomatoes, vinegar and capers.

Oh, and guess what? You and your fanatically fit friends can enjoy this delicious dip without guilt. One hefty, 1/2 cup serving has just 72 calories, 3 grams of fat and 5 grams of fiber.

Caponata can be served warm, room temperature or chilled, just consider your world: Cold and rainy in Vermont? Serve warm. Just right in Des Moines? Room temp. Smokin' hot in Austin? Definitely chilled. On the side, serve toasted baguette slices, toasted pita wedges or whole grain crackers.

Eggplant Caponata
Caponata can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to serve.

2 tablespoons slivered almonds
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup chopped red or white onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
14.5-ounce can diced fire roasted tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons drained capers
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Place almonds in a small, dry skillet and set pan over medium heat.  Cook 3-4 minutes, until nuts are golden brown and toasted, shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, onion and garlic and sauté 3-5 minutes, until eggplant is soft and golden brown, stirring frequently. Add diced tomatoes (with juice from can), vinegar, capers, oregano, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover with foil and simmer 10 minutes, until eggplant is very tender and mixture is thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl and sprinkle toasted almonds over top. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.

Serves 6
Makes 3 cups (serving size: 1/2 cup)

Nutrition Info Per Serving (1/2 cup)
Calories: 72
Total Fat: 3 grams
Saturated Fat: <1 gram
Total Carbohydrate: 10 grams
Sugars: 5 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 356 milligrams
Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
Fiber: 5 grams