February 19, 2008
It was my first trip to Argentina. Guillermo and I were leaving his parents house to spend the weekend in the city of Mendoza. We were going to do a wine tour of several wineries, go to a natural hot springs with a day spa, and shop for my engagement ring! A weekend of romantic bliss…unfortunately, we didn’t make it. (Though we did later buy my engagement ring, for those of you worried about that!)
On the three hour drive from my husband’s family’s house in Bowen, there is a long, lonely road. It’s a two lane highway, cars occasionally passing each other going in opposite directions, punctuated by a town or two every so often. The landscape is dry and dusty, reminiscent of the American Southwest-lots of sagebrush, tumbleweed, tough-skinned lizards running to and fro across the highway; nothing for miles around but open space. And buzzards.
We were in Guillermo’s dad’s truck. Two greedy buzzards sat in the road, eating the remains of a slowpoke lizard, there was a semi truck approaching in the opposite direction in the other lane. As we came speeding along, the two massive birds lifted to fly away, and one was headed directly toward our windshield.
To avoid it, as its huge wingspan would have caused the bird to come directly through the glass, Guillermo swerved and started heading off the road, clipping the gravelly shoulder. Then he over-corrected, back onto the road, and directly into the path of the oncoming semi.
Guillermo swerved out of the way just in time.
And then the semi hit us, took off half of the back of the truck , and sent us off the road into the bushes. This is what I was thinking at the time: What the #&$!! is he doing? OHGODOHGODOHGOD!!! I’m going to die! … and then…My mother is going to kill me for dying in South America!, and then…I think I’m going to throw up.
Guillermo got out of the car, and the semi-truck driver did, too, all of us without a single scratch, and me thinking there must be a reason behind THAT. It was the nearest miss I’ve ever had or will ever have again. (You don’t walk away from something like that twice.)
So we’re out in the middle of nowhere. Guillermo, the truck driver and I. No cell phone service, no town or police station for miles.
We waited for about an hour, a passing car said he would tell the police in the next town to head our way. And my husband and the truck driver SAT DOWN TOGETHER AND DRANK A MATE. Okay… I have never had an experience like that with a person with whom I have just been involved in a car accident. Instead, a fender bender involves people getting out of their car, screaming obscenities, threats, etc., etc. But they sat down and drank tea together. Only in Argentina.
And right about now you’re probably thinking-so what does this have to do with eggplant?
We ended up driving with the bumper in the back of the truck to the nearest town, Ñaquñan (if you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry) to make a report at the police station. By now it’s been almost 3 hours, and we didn’t bring any lunch, since by then we were supposed to have been at a sidewalk cafe in Mendoza, sipping wine and eating a great meal. Ñaquñan has no restaurants, no cafes, even a gas station or a grocery store. It does have a bus stop and a community center. And a bunch of stray dogs. We did find a place that sold packaged cookies, so I sat there with this very friendly stray pup that we nicknamed Ñaqu, eating cookies.
And the truck driver says, "Do you want something else to eat?" And proceeds to take a cooler out of his rig, filled with ham sandwiches on thin white bread, chard-filled calzones, and a container of marinated eggplant. Each thing was better than the last. I was like a castaway starving on a deserted island who has just come across a treasure chest full of food. I felt guilty taking his lunch, but it seemed he sincerely wanted me to have it, and since he would now have to make a stop instead of going along his regular route, I agreed.
The eggplant was the best thing I had ever tasted. Maybe it was just because I was so hungry, but they really were incredible! Long, thin slices of purple eggplant, marinated in a mixture of oil and vinegar, herbs, garlic, and a hint of crushed red pepper. Simple and delicious!
Later, when I was trying to explain the eggplant to my mother in law, she said "Oh, yeah, berenjenas en escabeche-marinated eggplant!" As in, it’s very common in Argentina, pretty everyday and everyone can make it. And she gave me the recipe, which I have adapted for you here. So this isn’t the actual Truck Driver’s Wife’s Recipe, but every time I make this dish, I’m reminded of that day.
Receta por Berenjenas en Escabeche
Marinated Eggplant Recipe
2 medium sized eggplants, washed
1 cup vinegar (red wine or white)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 T. dried parsley
1T. dried oregano
2 cloves crushed garlic
crushed red pepper to taste
salt to taste
Trim the ends off the eggplant. Cut in in half lengthwise, and then lay it flat side down and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices.You can also slice the eggplant into rounds. Put the slices layer upon layer in a roasting pan. Salt each layer with coarse salt and let sit for about an hour. (The salt draws out the bitterness and moisture from the eggplant.) Drain and rinse the eggplant. Put the eggplant, the vinegar and the water in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and blanch the eggplant until it takes on a translucent look, about 10 to 15 minutes. Thicker eggplant slices will require more time, thin slices slightly less. The eggplant should be flexible and chewy but not falling apart. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl. When the eggplant has cooked through, drain off half of the vinegar/water and put the rest, along with the eggplant, in the bowl with the oil mixture. Mix well. Refrigerate until cold. Eat within the week, this dish is not recommended for canning. Makes a great side dish, appetizer or potluck dish.