08 Dec Ukrainian Fermented “Sour” Eggplants
Fermented eggplants, also known as “sour” eggplants, might be a less famous example of Slavic fermentation culture, but no less delicious. “Sour” eggplant is one of the staples in the South of Ukraine where I grew up. My grandma made them every fall and then served during winter as a beautiful condiment for fried or mashed potato, pot roast, and braised meat. I remember the taste so vividly—garlicky, spicy, pleasantly sour, and slightly fizzy. Ideal for starchy, meaty Slavic winter dishes.
Slavic people are famous for their love for pickling, curing, and preserving almost all imaginable veggies and proteins. There is a practical reason for this, aside from serving pickled zakuska with vodka. The growing season is very short in Eastern European countries. And if you want to eat good food in winter, you need to start preserving late summer. Harvest time is the busiest period for every aspiring home chef in Ukraine. For a few weeks, the kitchen transforms into a DYI canning facility with dozens of glass jars and gigantic metal pots for jams, pickles, and ferments. I watched my mom and babushka doing it every year, and now after moving to the US, I joined the forces and embraced my fully culinary heritage.
This “sour” eggplant recipe is a joined effort of my mom, my babushka, and myself. Ukrainian women rarely write down recipes. Instead, eyeball everything and get creative in the moment. This is where I had to step in to make sure all the proportions are correct, and all steps are there.
Fermented “Sour” Eggplants Cooking process
Picking the right eggplants are crucial for this recipe. Ideally, they should be small – no larger than than 5.5-inch longer. Little Italian and Chinese eggplants are best.
Firstly, you need to wash and pet dry all ingredients. Then preheat the oven to 400F. We need to bake the eggplants to make them soft but not mushy. The skin will lose its color and turn pale brown – that’s what we want. The process will take about 20 min. Pierce one eggplant with a small sharp knife to make sure it’s soft and cooked all the way through. Use tongs to remove the eggplants to a cutting board or wire rack and let cool.
Cooking the filling
This filling is a flavor bomb. It has ten garlic cloves, juicy veggies, and a bunch of fresh cilantro—also, one more essential ingredient – quality oil. I always use refined sunflower oil – you can buy it from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Amazon, or any Russian store in your city. Sunflower oil has a pleasantly mild flavor that doesn’t overpower the main ingredients. Also, sunflower oil goes amazingly well with Slavic dishes. What grows together- goes together. Other great alternatives are grapeseed oil, safflower oil, and refined olive oil.
Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and carrot and saute until soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Add the pepper and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the pepper is tender. Season the veggies and cook for 2 more minutes. Then remove from the heat and stir in the minced garlic and chopped cilantro.
Last Steps and Fermentation
To prep our eggplants for the stuffing, you need to slice them lengthwise and open like a pocket. Very important – don’t cut them all the way through! We need all the delicious veggie filling inside the eggplant. Generously stuff the eggplants with the filling and place in a single layer in a wide bowl or a medium baking dish. Then pour the leftover oil and veggie filling on top. The eggplants love oil; it makes them extra tender and delicious. To ensure successful fermentation, they need to be fully covered with oil.
The last step is to weight the eggplants down and fully submerge them into the oil. Find something heavy for this purpose. I used a large jar filled with water as a weight. But cast iron cookware works excellent as well!
Now, when the cooking part is over, let the eggplant ferment for about 7 to 10 days in a dark place. You can taste them after 5 days to see how you like the flavor.
When the eggplants are fully fermented, you can put them into a jar or a glass container with a tight lid; then store them in the fridge. They will last for a few weeks, if not more! I love serving these eggplants as a vibrant side dish for my favorite pan-fried potato with pork belly.
Fermented “Sour” Eggplants
- 5 small eggplants roughly 1 pound, Listada or Italian eggplants work great
- 5 ounces carrot grated
- 5 ounces yellow onion chopped
- 2 1/2 ounces bell pepper sliced
- 10 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup sunflower oil grapeseed, and olive oil will work as well
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 small bunch cilantro chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Place the eggplants on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and sent them to the oven. Bake the eggplants until soft, about 20 minutes. You should be able to easily pierce them with a knife but still feel a tiny bit of resistance. Remove the eggplants from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and carrot and saute until soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Add the pepper and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the pepper is soft. Season with sugar, salt, and chili flakes. Cook for 2 more minutes. Transfer the veggies to a bowl and stir in the minced garlic and chopped cilantro.
- Now with need to prep our eggplants for the stuffing. For this, we want to slice them open lengthwise and open like a pocket. Be careful and don’t cut them all the way through; we need all the veggie filling inside the eggplant.
- Generously stuff the eggplants with a filling and place in a single layer in a wide bowl or a medium baking dish. Then pour the leftover oil and veggie filling on top.
- Cover the eggplants with a flat plate or a chopping board and place something heavy on top. We need this to weight the eggplants down and fully submerge them into the oil. This step is crucial for the fermentation process.
- Leave the eggplants in a dark place at room temperature for 5 to 7 days. They should get slightly fizzy and taste pleasantly sour. Ferment for a few more pays if you want a more robust flavor.
- After the fermentation is over, store your eggplants in the fridge in an airtight glass container or a jar. They will be good for a couple of weeks.