I started collecting celebrity snack stories as a sequel to my book, SNACKS: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle. I made a list of favorite folks I might be able to approach and Carl Reiner was at the top. I met the master of comedy a few times at industry events and once had the pleasure to cook lunch for him and his wife Estelle. (A simple grilled chicken sandwich with my garden tomatoes and arugula.) I called our mutual pal, Aimee, and asked her to make the pitch. Minutes later – yes, minutes – Carl called me. His gleeful recollection of his mother’s signature recipe, and every detail it required to prepare it correctly, reminded me why food is fun(ny):
“My favorite snack is potlojel. It’s a Romanian eggplant dish that my mother made when I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn. I hated it then, but now I can’t get enough of it! It’s traditionally served in the middle of a salad, although I like it with an avocado. A spoonful of potlojel then a spoonful of avocado. Just like that until the avocado is gone. It’s a simple recipe if you follow it to the letter. Here’s the letter.
- One eggplant
- One or two lemons
- Two to three thick slices finely chopped onion
- Three to four tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- A glass-canning jar
You gotta use a gas stove. If you don’t have a gas stove you’re outta luck. Put the eggplant on the flame. Turn it from side to side until it’s squishy and steamy. You know it is done cooking when you can easily insert a fork.
Next, take the eggplant to the sink and run some cool water. Carefully peel the eggplant. All the skin has to be gone and the little black specks, too.
Slice the eggplant lengthwise. Hit it with the juice from one or two lemons. Whatever you like but the point is to keep the eggplant light. Dark eggplant is ugly and the lemon keeps it from getting that way.
Get a big plate and put the eggplant on it. Beat it with a wooden spoon and keep smashing until it is pulverized. That’s the way my mom did it and I like to do it this way, too. You can use a blender if you’re careful only to mix only for a second or two. Put the eggplant mixture in a glass jar. Add the onion, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork in the jar. Cover and refrigerate.”