Poor Man's Eggplant Caviar ( Kaviar z Baklazhanyu)

1 large eggplant (about 2 pounds)
1 cup finely chopped onions
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red or green pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar (I like a squeeze of Agave syrup)
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
Dark rye or pumpernickel bread or sesame seed crackers

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Bake the eggplant on a rack in the center of the oven for about an hour, turning it over once or twice until it is soft and its skin is charred and blistered.

Meanwhile, cook the onions in 4 tablespoons of the oil over moderate heat for 6 to 8 minutes until they are soft but not brown. Stir in the green or red pepper and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes longer. With a rubber spatula scrape the contents of the skillet into a mixing bowl.

Remove the skin from the baked eggplant with a small, sharp knife, then chop the eggplant pulp finely, almost to a puree. Add it to the mixing bowl and stir in the tomatoes, sugar, salt and a few grindings of black pepper. (I like to add a bit of ketchup and hot sauce and pinch of cinnamon to taste). Mix together thoroughly. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over moderate heat and pour in the eggplant mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then turn the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer for an hour. Remove the cover and cook an additional half hour, stirring from time to time, until all the moisture in the pan has evaporated and the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape in a spoon. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Transfer the "caviar" to a mixing bowl and chill, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve. Serve on squares of bread or on sesame seed crackers. Makes about 3 cups.

NOTE: To peel and seed tomatoes, drop the tomatoes into boiling water for 15 seconds. Run them under cold water and peel them. Cut out the stem, then slice them in half crosswise. Squeeze the halves gently to remove the juices and seeds.

Agave syrup (also called agave nectar) is a sweetener commercially produced in Mexico, from several species of agave, including Agave tequilana (also called Blue Agave or Tequila Agave), and the Salmiana, Green, Grey, Thorny, and Rainbow varieties. Agave syrup is sweeter than honey, though less viscous.

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