Eggplant meltdown and cooking with my sister
My sister lives miles away, in Stockholm, but somehow we often seem to be exploring the same cooking projects simultaneously. Whether it’s tofu recipes, smoothies, sour dough bread, or an obsession with sustainable meat and fish, we are almost always in sync.
One of her past visits to the US was particularly poignant and our cooking synchronicity brought our family comfort and healing during a difficult passage. My sister came home to see my father for the last time as he was very ill. We both brought our sourdough starters to our parent’s home which we fed each night before we went to bed. We took turns making wonderful toothsome loaves, comparing our processes and outcomes. And then we really took off! We each felt the need to cook our favorite Greek recipes for my father and for each other, and this is what he ate during the last week of his life. He wasn’t talking, or eating too much in those last days, but we saw him enjoy the beautiful spanakopita my sister prepared and watched him eat my kapema, taking a small a piece of bread and scoop the oil, containing all of the flavors of the vegetables, saw the pleasure and the love he was receiving from his daughters.
These dishes were the ones we ate a half century ago, in the Bronx apartments of my grandmother and aunt, who have long since passed away. My memory of the adults sitting, cramped in the tiny kitchen (none of them were what one would call small people), around the linoleum table, scooping up the caramelized eggplant, oil and tomato (kapema) with thick chunks of rye bread. My grandmother’s scuviya, a version of tzadtiki was always present. We cousins and siblings tried modern dance moves across the living room watching ourselves in the floor to ceiling mirror that covered one of the walls, or played hide-and-seek in the dark cavernous apartment hallways as the adults ate and talked for hours.
In later years, I felt a calling to make kapema in one of the restaurants where I was cheffing, and one of my cooks gave it a great name “Eggplant Meltdown”. Use whatever name you prefer but make it now, as it’s a great time of year to make this wonderful hearty Jewish Greek dish passed down from my Grandma, Stella Negrin. May she and my father, David Negrin rest in peace, and may my sister and I always be in sync.
Kapema: Slow cooked eggplant and tomato
1 each globe eggplant
3 each, large very ripe tomatoes
Slice the eggplant lengthwise in about 16 pieces
Steam for about 12 minutes until very soft
Peel and seed the tomatoes; then coarsely chop
Using a pyrex or baking dish sprayed with olive oil, lay the eggplant slices along the bottom
Cover with diced tomatoes
Pour the olive oil on top and sprinkle herbs and spices over
Bake in 350 degree oven for about 2 hours until the oil bubbles to the top and the eggplant is caramelized
This dish can be eaten hot or cold
Yield: 6-8 servngs
1 lb. phyllo sheets, thawed
½ cup diced green onion
1 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
small bunch parsley, chopped
small bunch dill, chopped
¼ tsp Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6 eggs, beaten
20 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
½ cup oil
¼ lb. melted butter
Melt the butter and combine with the olive oil in a small bowl and set aside.
Put the chopped green onions and thawed spinach in a bowl and add the feta cheese. Stir in the chopped parsley and dill. Gradually add the beaten eggs and mix thoroughly.
Brush a rectangular pyrex dish with the olive oil/butter mixture, using a pastry brush.
Carefully unroll the phyllo and place on the counter and cover with a lightly dampened towel. Lay one sheet of phyllo dough on the bottom of the dish, and brush with the butter and oil. Layer 5 more sheets of phyllo, brushing each layer, before adding the next.
Spread the spinach and feta cheese mixture carefully over the phyllo dough in the glass pan.
Layer 6 more sheets of phyllo on top, brushing each sheet with the butter/oil. If the phyllo dough is too big you can use poultry shears to trim the edges to fit the pan or dish.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Cut into squares and serve hot or cold with sour cream or yogurt.
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