Dancing Tomatoes

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In Italian, the eggplant is called “melanzana,” which was incorrectly translated in France on its arrival from the Middle East as early as the 8th century to “mal saine” which means, literally, “unhealthy”.  This evoked suspicion in the French cook and eater, which wasn’t helped by the eggplant’s flower, which closely resembles deadly nightshade.    Thus, it took awhile for it to make its way onto the French plate.

Considerable Nutritive Attributes

But once it got there, most likely in the 18th century, it became a beloved part of southern French cuisine, for the plant was cultivated along the shores and up into the hills of the Mediterranean.  It has long been loved for its flavor, its versatility, and its considerable nutritional attributes too, which include antioxidants in its skin, and considerable potassium in its flesh.


The word “caviar” in France can only legally be used to refer to two very specific foodstuffs.  One is the sturgeon egg, that symbol of black to pearly grey luxury that is usually accompanied by vodka.  No other fish egg has this right, in France.

The other?  This lovely dish, an import originally from Russia where it was always crushed in a mortar and pestle, which left it looking slightly granular, as though made of thousands of eggs. As the legend goes, the original translator of this dish – which was called “caviar made from eggplant” in Russian – translated it simply as “eggplant caviar”.  The name stuck and the law says this is “permis,” or “permitted”.   As an aside, this lovely preparation is also referred to as “caviar des pauvres” or “poor man’s caviar.”  By any name it all, it is a favorite dish in France, and so easy you’ll find yourself making it all the time.


Eggplant caviar, which is ancient and hails originally from the Middle East, can be served by itself, as a sort of dip for crackers or fresh vegetables, alongside grilled fish or chicken. We love it best served atop toasts, as here, served with a glass of hearty red.  

No matter how you serve it, though, flavorful eggplant caviar merits its luxurious name.


There are a million ways to serve eggplant caviar, and this is one of the best. But use your imagination and serve it as it suits you!
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: French
Keyword: eggplant, fleur de sel, olive oil, piment d'Espelette, tahini


  • 2 medium-sized;about 11 ounces;330g each eggplants, rinsed and dried
  • 2 garlic cloves green germ removed if necessary
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cumin salt see recipe
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 generous tablespoon tahini toasted sesame paste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 to 14 slices whole-grain baguette or country bread lightly toasted
  • For garnish:
  • Cherry Tomatoes cut in quarters
  • Piment d’Espelette
  • Fleur de Sel
  • Fresh basil leaves


  • Prick the eggplant all over with a trussing skewer or fork so they won’t explode during cooking, and cook by whichever method suits you.
  • While the eggplant is cooking, place the garlic in a mortar or in a bowl with the cumin salt. Using a pestle or a wooden spoon, mash the garlic and salt together until they are a coarse purée. When the eggplant are roasted and cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh into the mortar or the bowl and mash it into the garlic until it is a coarse purée.
  • Add the lemon juice and the tahini, and mix them into the eggplant mixture until they are thoroughly combined. Stir in the oil and taste for seasoning. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, covered, before serving so the flavors have a chance to mellow.
  • To make the toasts, drizzle each piece of toast with olive oil. Place a generous tablespoon of eggplant caviar atop each toast, then garnish each with three cherry tomato quarters. Season lightly with piment d’Espelette and fleur de sel, then garnish each toast with a basil leaf. Serve immediately.

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