Eggplant, also known as guinea squash, has a centuries-old place in Southern cuisine, as do peanuts, and the two have a surprisingly nice affinity. Vinegars were hard to come by for early Colonists, which is hard to imagine, as they are now so readily available. Imagine having to use lard or some other heavy fat alone to dress a salad. Luckily, too, we have a ready supply of oils for dressing. It is important to salt and rinse the eggplant so the dressing is not diluted by the dark juices.
Eggplant and Peanut Salad
2 eggplants, about 1 1/2 pounds each
1/2 tablespoon oil, cook's preference
2 onions, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup raisins, plumped in warm water 10 to 15 minutes and drained
1/2 cup peanuts, halved or chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Basil or marjoram to taste (optional)
Peel the eggplant and cut in 1/2- to 1-inch cubes. Move the cubes to a colander placed over a bowl or sink, and salt liberally. Leave for 30 minutes. Rinse, drain and dry cubes.
Meanwhile, heat the 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and add the onions. Saute briefly, for only 1 or 2 minutes; add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Remove while the onions are still crisp.
Add the dry eggplant cubes to the pan in one layer, using more oil if necessary. Cook until lightly brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove while the eggplant is still holding its shape and soft but not mushy.
Whisk together vinegar and mustard in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and continue whisking until emulsified. Stir in the still warm onions, garlic and eggplant. Cool, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
About 30 minutes before serving, add the raisins, peanuts and herbs, and stir. Serve at room temperature or cold.
Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently the James Beard award-winning "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking." She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.
Editor's note: A previous version of this recipe contained the incorrect amount of mustard. The recipe is now correct.