Every year, around August 22, Leonidion hosts their annual Eggplant (Melitzana) Festival. People gather from all over Greece to take part in the festivities. Plaka, the main port area, becomes a focal point for most of the events. The local dance group performs “Tsakonika” dances. The women of the town make one or two eggplant dishes to enter into an annual contest, where renowned chefs select a prize-winning recipe. The chefs that come to vote on the best eggplant dishes come from the United States, France and England.
The European Economic Community has named Leonidion the “Tsakonika” Eggplant capital of Europe. These eggplants are sweeter than eggplants grown in any other parts of Greece. Because of this, the EEC has developed a symbol / sticker to put on the eggplants, indicating that you are purchasing an authentic ‘Leonidion “Tsakoniki” Eggplant’.
This year’s festival, organized by the Municipality of Leonidion and the local Farmers Union, has taken place on Saturday, August 21. Deputy Culture Minister of Greece, Petros Tatoulis and Member of Parliament, former Minister of Labor, Dimitris Reppas and businessman George Vardinogiannis were present in the 10th Eggplant Festival.
Hundreds of visitors joint the locals in the celebration that ended with a concert by Katerina Kouka and the group “Paparokades” and fireworks.
Many of the below recipes are common eggplant recipes made in Leonidio. Try them out and explore the world of eggplants
Eggplant preserve (Sweet) – Melitznaki gliko
4-5 cloves, almonds (with no skin), 2 cups water, 3 pieces of cinnamon stick, 1 kilo sugar(280grams), 1 kilo (280 grams) eggplants.
Select 30 small eggplants (1kilo). Remove the stems and green. With a small knife remove the thin layer of skin from the outside of the eggplants. Place the cleaned eggplants in a bowl of water, which has freshly squeezed lemon juice. (5 kilos of water one cup lemon). This prevents them from browning. Let them sit in the water & lemon for 24 hours, changing the water 2 – 3 times.
Strain the eggplants. Put a small slice in each eggplant and place 1-2 almonds in each. Boil the sugar and water with the cinnamon and cloves for 5 min. Add the eggplants, cook for 5 min. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for 24 hours.
Boil on a high heat, remove the foam. Once thick, add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Let it boil again (5-10 seconds). Remove from heat and let it cool down. Place in sterilized jars.
Pickled Eggplants – Melitzanaki Toursi
1 kilo carrots, 1 clove garlic, 1 kilo celery, 1/2 kilo oil, 1 kilo vinegar, A few peppers, pickling spices, salt, pepper, parsley, 1 kilo small eggplants
Clean the eggplants and slice them into three parts. Boil them with a little oil until tender, then drain. Keep one kilo of this water for the pickling process. Slit the eggplants to be stuffed. Thinly slice the onion, garlic, parsley, carrot and stuff the eggplants with this mixture.
In the mean time boil the celery until soft and let it drain. Combine the celery and eggplants so that the celery covers the stuffed eggplants making sure not to let the filling fall out. Place in a sterile glass jars, add one kilo water (held from earlier), one kilo vinegar and a little oil on top.
Cover and let it stand for one week. Then it is ready to serve.
2 large (about 1.2kg) eggplants, Coarse cooking salt, 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil,2 tablespoons olive oil (extra), 1 large onion, chopped, 2 cloves garlic, crushed, 1 kg minced lamb, 425g can tomatoes,2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/2 cup (125ml) dry red wine, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 ground cinnamon, Salt, pepper,1/4-cup (20g) grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cheese Sauce (Béchamel): 125g butter, 2/3 cup (100g) plain flour, 1 liter (4 cups) milk,1/2-cup (40g) grated Parmesan cheese, 2 eggs
Cut eggplants into 5mm slices, sprinkle with salt, stand 20 minutes. Rinse eggplant under cold water; drain, pat dry with absorbent paper. Place eggplant slices in single layer on lightly greased oven trays. Brush with oil, grill on both sides until lightly browned; drain on absorbent paper.
Heat extra oil in pan; add onion and garlic, cook, stirring, until onion is soft. Add mince, cook, stirring, until mince is browned. Add undrained crushed tomatoes, paste, wine, parsley, sugar and cinnamon with salt and pepper to taste, simmer, covered, 30 minutes.
Grease ovenproof dish (2.5 liter / 10 cup capacity). Line dish with one-third of the eggplant, top with half the meat sauce, then half the remaining eggplant, remaining meat sauce and remaining eggplant. Spread cheese sauce (béchamel) over eggplant, sprinkle with cheese and nutmeg. Bake, uncovered, in moderate oven about 45 minutes or until lightly browned.
Cheese Sauce (Béchamel): Melt butter in pan, stir in flour, stir over heat until bubbling. Remove from heat, gradually stir in milk, and stir over heat until mixture boils and thins. Remove from heat, stir in cheese, cool slightly, sit in eggs; mix until smooth.
Serves 6, Recipe can be made a day ahead, Storage: Covered, in refrigerator
Option: My mother’s recipe is a bit different. She puts a layer of fried potatoes on the bottom to keep it solid.
Stuffed Eggplants – Papoutsakia
10 Eggplants, 0.5 kilos ground beef,1 onion, 1 clove garlic, Salt & Pepper, 4 ripe tomatoes
In one medium sized pot add olive oil, add onion. Let it cook until tender. Add the ground beef, salt, pepper, and tomato with one cup of water. Let the ground beef mixture cook until all the water is gone.
Slice the eggplants down the center and remove the center and ends. Lightly fry the eggplants. Once done place them in a roasting pan. Fill each eggplant with the ground beef mixture. Top them off with a béchamel sauce. Place in a medium heat oven for one hour.
Eggplant in a Stew – (Melitzanes me kreas)
1 kilo meat (beef, lamb or goat), 10 medium sized tsakonikes eggplants, 2 medium sized onions, 3 ripe fresh tomatoes finely chopped, 1 tablespoon tomato-paste, 1or2 cloves garlic, parsley to taste, salt & pepper to taste.
Cut the meat into small cubes. Put 1/2 cup oil in a large stew pot, add the onion and lightly brown it with the meat. Once lightly browned, add a little white wine. Add the tomato and the tomato-paste which is diluted in a little water. Add salt and pepper to desired taste. Allow the meat to cook well. Wash the eggplants and cut them in small pieces, then let them sit in salt water for a few minutes. After a while, remove the eggplants from the water and rinse them in clean water, squeezing out excess water once rinsed. Sauté the eggplants in a pan so that they get a little soft. Place the eggplants on paper-towel to remove excess oil. Add to pot with meat to slowly cook. Make sure the heat on the stove is at a low temperature so the food does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
Eggplant Dip – Melitzanosalata
1 large eggplant, 1 medium onion, finely chopped, 3/4 cup (75g) packaged breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons plain yogurt, 3 cloves garlic, crushed, 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley,1 tablespoon cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice,1/2 cup (125ml) olive oil
Place whole eggplant on oven tray, bake in hot oven about 1 hour or until soft. Remove eggplant from oven; cool slightly. Peel eggplant, chop flesh roughly.
Combine eggplant flesh with remaining ingredients in food processor, process until smooth. Refrigerate mixture several hours or overnight.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups. Recipe can be made 2 days ahead. Storage: Covered, in refrigerator.