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One of my favorite places on earth is a Mediterranean market near my apartment on Seattle’s north end. It’s a postage stamp-sized store overflowing with fresh dates, fava beans, grilled olives, and triple cream feta. One entire aisle is dedicated to canned and jarred preparations of classic dishes like eggplant stuffed with rice, grilled stuffed peppers, and pickled vegetable salads. There are large oval tins, which are clearly meant to feed a family or last over many meals, and there are also single-portion containers with plastic spoons attached to the lids (I love these for bagged lunches and even picnics when the weather is nicer).
If you don’t have a robust Mediterranean market near you, Trader Joe’s offers a small line of tinned meze. They’re often grouped together on a bottom shelf near the canned beans, waiting to be overlooked as you grab your olives and chickpeas. There are cumin-y chickpeas, quinoa-filled dolmas, braised gigante beans, and, my favorite, the eggplant with tomatoes and onions.
Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s Grecian Style Eggplant with Tomatoes and Onions, $1.29 for 9.9 ounces
This preparation isn’t going to win over anyone who doesn’t already love eggplant. In many ways, it celebrates the very things so many people find off-putting. When you open the can, thick pieces of eggplant float in a bath of garlic, olive oil, and puréed tomatoes. The mixture can only be described as viscous, the eggplant hovering on the line between tender and spreadable. The flavor of the eggplant is bright and intense, with the tomatoes lending the acidy to counter the olive oil bath.
My favorite way to eat it is as is, spread on crackers or some bread with crumbled cheese; it’s lovely with feta, shaved pieces of Cacciocavallo, or torn pieces of fresh mozzarella. Under the broiler it bubbles, and as the cheese melts it almost resembles fondue.
This can of eggplant is a fantastic road-trip companion and has been featured in many picnics at highway rest areas, eaten simply with a spoon and a hope that the oil won’t spill on my shirt. I always bring it camping: When scrambled with eggs it’s a lovely breakfast, and when tossed with pasta it becomes a campsite pasta alla Norma, with the tomatoes and olive oil quickly transforming into a sauce.
I don’t believe in calling food “humble;” it seems like an insult to the people who farmed and harvested it and to the cultures that survived on it. And so I won’t call this can humble. But I will call it overlooked. And I will do what I can to change that!
Have you tried Trader Joe’s tinned eggplant? Tell us in the comments below.