I was shocked to learn that people in foreign (non-Southern) areas of the country don't have eggplant on the dinner table at least twice a week. African slaves introduced eggplant into Southern cuisine, and for many years it was seen mainly in the wealthy areas of the South. In Charleston, eggplant is often still called "Guinea squash. Today it is a staple vegetable throughout the South; used in salads, fried, tucked into vegetable casseroles, combined with seafood or meat, stuffed or pureed into sauces. This is a great addition to the buffet table or picnic basket.
2 large eggplants (about 1 1/4 pounds each)
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
6 green onions (including tops), chopped
1 cup minced parsley, preferably flat-leaf
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried leaf basil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup good olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick eggplants all over with a fork and place in a baking dish. Bake in preheated oven until skin is blistered and flesh is very tender (about 45 minutes). Remove eggplants from oven; set aside until cool enough to handle, then slice in half and scoop out pulp. Chop pulp; discard skins. In a medium bowl, combine chopped pulp, tomatoes, green onions, parsley, garlic, celery and basil. Toss to blend and refrigerate until chilled. When ready to assemble salad, combine vinegar, Tabasco sauce, cumin, pepper, sugar and salt in another medium bowl; whisk until blended. Whisking, constantly, add oil in a slow, steady stream. Pour dressing over eggplant mixture; toss to combine. Let mixture stand 30 minutes at room temperature before serving, stirring often.