This dish is similar to peperonata, shares ingredients with caponata, but is more of a relish. It could be used sparingly as a condiment or generously as a main ingredient.

With all of that variation, it is hard to reason why I am having such trouble finding the words to appropriately introduce this bowl of piquant peppers and eggplant. I feel a bit sheepish, as the inadequacy falls squarely on my shoulders; the relish is rather tasty and possesses a multitude of positive attributes. Cut into thin lengths and roasted, the vegetables delicately slip across the palate, sweet and unctuous. Vinegar-steeped then soothed with olive oil, they have an acidity that sets the mouth to water.

I will say, despite the lack of fanfare and my difficulty with uncharacteristic taciturnity, this relish has been extraordinarily easy to enjoy. Three jars have resided in our fridge in as many weeks, with the ingredients for a subsequent batch always waiting at the ready. Maybe that record is endorsement enough.

ROASTED EGGPLANT AND PEPPER RELISH

The generous quantity of vinaigrette thoroughly bathes the cooked vegetables and results in a particularly-succulent result. These juices will cloud slightly when refrigerated, due to the olive oil, but will clear once brought to room temperature. Can be served as a sandwich spread (above), an antipasti, or as an accompaniment to grilled and roasted meats and poultry.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 red bell peppers, seeded, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4" batons
  • 1 large onion, halved lengthwise and then sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar, see note
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
  • sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). On a standard rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan, toss together the peppers and eggplant. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast, for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Add 3/4 of the onion (reserve the rest) and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft but without much colour, about 25-30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, make the vinaigrette; combine the vinegar, capers, garlic and basil. Slowly whisk in the 1/2 cup of olive oil, until thick and emulsified. Mix in the reserved onion and the red pepper flakes (if using), season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

When finished roasting, tumble the hot vegetables into the vinaigrette, tossing well to combine. Make sure to scrape any caramelized bits off of the pan and any accumulated juices. Allow the vegetables to marinate for 20 minutes at the least, serving the relish warm. My preference is to cool the mixture, then refrigerate in a sealed container overnight. It can then be served at room temperature or warmed gently.

Makes about 2 cups.

Notes:

• The reserved raw onion will slightly pickle in the vinaigrette. You can skip this step, but I like how they turn into translucent ribbons of concentrated acidity.

• For those who might find good quality balsamic vinegar overly intense, you could substitute 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar for the same quantity of balsamic.

It has only been in the last few years that my father started to foray into the kitchen (save for our childhood favourite of his French toast fingers). But since then, he has taken on the majority of culinary duties, exploring and expanding his repertoire of specialities to include his Thanksgiving turkey roulade, his mahogany-hued beef and broccoli stir fry, and his fabulously decadent caramel custard. But none of these can come close in fame to his true calling card; Indian food.

The French may have their mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot), and Creole cuisine may boast its trinity (onion, celery, green pepper), but in my father's pan there is but one triumvirate - onion, ginger and garlic.

In fact, it is the frequent refrain when I call to ask him for recipes; "start with onion, ginger, garlic ...." As soon as the three hit the heat the scent immediately brings me back to thoughts of my parents home. Slowly cooking on the stove, this fragrant tangle forms the basis of much of the Indian menu; the backbone flavour of many dishes, both meat based and vegetarian.

This succulent spread of sweet blackened eggplant and barely-caramelized onions is lifted by handfuls of grassy cilantro and spiky rings of green chili. Simple to make yet boundlessly versatile, it can be served as a vegetable offering in an Indian meal, combined with spiced ground meat (keema) for something more substantial, mixed with thick yogurt and topped with ground toasted cumin for a dip, or simply spread on griddled flatbread for a quick snack.

My father's eggplant spread
His own recipe

Ingredients
Canola oil or other neutral oil
1 medium eggplant (aubergine)
1 large onion, cut lengthways then into thin half moons
2 teaspoons ginger, grated (see note)
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 small green chili, sliced finely
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
salt to taste

Use a few drops of canola oil to lightly grease the skin of the eggplant. Over the dying coals of a charcoal fire, place the whole eggplant on the grill. Cook, turning occasionally, until the eggplant has shrivelled and blackened. The flesh should yield easily to pressure, and most of its moisture will have cooked away. Do not panic if the skin splits while cooking, this is perfectly fine. Remove from the heat and set the eggplant aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 10-15 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic is sweet. Add the green chili and cilantro, cooking for 5 minutes more.

Using a spoon or your fingers, peel away the skin from the eggplant. Scoop the flesh into the pan with the aromatics, breaking it up and stirring to combine. Season lightly with salt. Increase the heat to medium and cook the eggplant for 10 more minutes, or until it begins to slightly darken in colour and any residual moisture has dissipated. Check for seasoning and serve.

Makes about 1 cup.

Notes:
• My parents store their ginger in the freezer; it keeps forever it seems and can be easily grated while frozen. The measurement in this recipe is using frozen ginger, and may vary if using fresh.
• Carefully remove the seeds and ribs (white pithy veins) from the green chili for those prefer less heat.