Romanian Eggplant Salad (Salata de Vinete)


I knew that my great-grandfather owned and operated a Romanian restaurant on the Lower East Side of New York City but only recently did I really start asking about stories and recipes from my family. Although my father didn’t really get much in the way of training to make these dishes, he was able to recall a lot of the foods which were served, tell me what he remembered about how his own dad (my beloved grandfather Ben Berke who lived to 102) made some of these dishes, and taste what I make to give me feedback.

It is with that backdrop that I’m thrilled to offer the first of hopefully several Romanian dishes and pickled foods I’ve been developing. This eggplant salad was one my father said they often had, and it is indeed a very traditional Romanian side dish. This isn’t a fermented food but the smoking method gives it a good solid refrigerator shelf life (in my experience) of a few weeks.

I was also attracted to making it because I regularly ate and enjoyed it in Israel where I lived for a few years, where this product is nearly as popular as its cousin baba ganoush – a very similar, traditionally Middle Eastern eggplant dip which includes tahini as a major component. (I have my own fermented baba ganoush recipe on this site from a while back. and I also explain how you can easily turn this Romanian recipe into baba ganoush at the end of this recipe.)

Although cooking the eggplant over a wood fire to bring in a delicious smokiness is common in Romania, my father noted my smoky version was different from what he was used to in that his family always made it in an oven. (It’s not to say he didn’t like my version; he loved it!) Likewise, if you don’t have a smoker, just make it in your oven. Or on the grill is a great choice too. Adding smoked paprika or liquid smoke to the recipe is an option noted below.

My grandfather was always eating lemon like it was an orange (!), so it’s no surprise that this is what he used for acidity. However, use of vinegar was popular for a long time in Romania and more available than lemons until the last century. Either is suitable.

With all this background, let’s go for it!

This recipe yields about 1.25 lbs. eggplant salad (550g) and serves 4 as an appetizer (with some bread, melba toast, crackers, or pita). The featured photo shows it served with my kefir flatbreads. That recipe is in the Insane in the Brine: The Official Cookbook!

Notes on fermenting the eggplant:

To my best knowledge, this dish is not traditionally fermented in Romania. However, I have fermented whole eggplants in 2.5% brine and then proceeded with the rest of the instructions below, including smoking the eggplants. The results were very good! The fermentation will provide saltiness so it’s possible you won’t want additional salt. Fermentation also creates acidity in the eggplant, especially if fermenting for two weeks or longer. Therefore, you may wish to reduce or eliminate the lemon juice component, or experiment. I encourage you to experiment with other flavors as well, such as fermenting the eggplants with garlic, onions, hot peppers, or really whatever might appeal to you. For basics on how to ferment and make a salt brine, see my overview article.

Example of eggplant fermenting (optional):

You will need:

  • If smoking: smoker, natural charcoal sufficient for 1.5 – 2 hours, and 2-3 pieces apple wood (or other smoking wood of choice), soaked for one hour to overnight
  • Knife & cutting board (you can use a food processor but it’s less traditional); a wooden knife is traditional in Romania to avoid cutting the seeds but a wooden turner with thin edge works well
  • Measuring cups & spoons
  • Colander
  • Mixing or serving bowl


  • ~2 lbs. eggplant
  • 1/2 a small onion (any variety of choice), finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TBSP finely chopped flatleaf parsley
  • 1 TBSP + 1 tsp expeller pressed sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Optional: Instead of, or in addition to the oil, 2 TBSP mayo may be added for a slightly different style
  • If oven cooking but wanting a smoky flavor: 1 tsp smoked paprika or several drops liquid smoke, until desired taste (done at end)


1.) Prepare the smoker, having soaked the wood in advance and allowing 10-15 minutes for the charcoal to become ready (flames died down, charcoal gray in color and covered with ash). If using the oven, preheat to 375F. Grill can be preheated at medium-high but turned down to low once the eggplants are placed. (Lightly coat the eggplants in sunflower oil if grilling to avoid sticking to the grill.)

2.) Meanwhile, poke several holes in the eggplant(s). If cooking in the oven, line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, as the eggplant can release moisture.

3.) When the smoker, oven, or grill is ready, place the eggplants, and turn roughly every 30 minutes, for about an hour and a half (the time can be less, or more, so be on the lookout… the eggplant skin should be evenly charred and the flesh very soft based on the feel. Note that it is hard to overcook them so if it goes for a long time, you’ll be fine). If the smoker runs out before the eggplant is sufficiently cooked, it is completely fine to finish it in the oven.

4.) Allow the eggplants to cool and then remove the skin. Cut the flesh down the middle and set in a colander and allow to drain for 30-60 minutes (longer end if it is very juicy). Don’t skip this step as it will remove bitterness.

5.) With the knife & cutting board, finely chop the eggplant and onion. A food processor can be used for a pate style like baba ganoush, but this isn’t the customary method in Romania.

6.) Transfer the eggplant and onion to mixing or serving bowl and add the sunflower oil, parsley, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Add any of the optional ingredients such as the mayo or smoky flavoring, as discussed in the ingredients section. Mix thoroughly.

7.) You are suggested to cover the eggplant salad with plastic wrap (cover directly on the eggplant, as well as another layer for the bowl. Otherwise store in a plastic or glassware container. Place in the refrigerator and let rest at least an hour for the flavors to meld. (Ideally, allow it to rest overnight.)

When serving, you may garnish with more parsley and a splash of sunflower oil.

To make this into baba ganoush:

You can use the above recipe and add 1/4 cup tahini, juice of the remaining 1/2 lemon, 1 tsp cumin, and a pinch of cayenne powder. Also, you are suggested to replace the sunflower oil with extra-virgin olive oil. Mix well and process in a food processor if desired. You will have a delicious, smoky baba ganoush!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *