During my time living in Romania making the perfect version of this staple eggplant spread became an obsession. I have observed friends (and their mothers), and I think that I have hit on a great version that works well in the American kitchen. Its a dish that delights and impresses guests who know nothing of Romania and makes Romanians smile. I often add garlic, which is not traditional but is really tasty. When I add it I mix it in at the end, after the mixture has really become cohesive. For this amount of eggplant, 1-2 cloves of garlic. Make sure to garnish this nicely and have plenty of good bread or crackers for spreading. —Ben
You need to really roast this eggplant or else this whole dish isn't worthwhile.
The way that I do this is directly on a gas burner. I turn my burner on and just rest the eggplant over the flame, turning it from side to side as it roasts. This will be messy and you will probably want to open a window, but it really makes a difference in terms of flavor. If its summer and you have an outdoor grill, you may as well do this out there. The eggplant should be soft and blackened on the outside after you've roasted it. This takes about 10 minutes.
Take the eggplant off the fire and it rest on a plate until it is cool enough to handle and some of the juices have run out.
Move the eggplant to a cutting board and using a wooden utensil (in Romania they actually sell a wooden knife that is made for this very purpose) such as a wooden knife, spatula, or thin wooden spoon, split the skin open and remove the cooked eggplant. Try to avoid getting any burnt skin flecks mixed in with the eggplant.
Discard the skin and stem.
You should have a nice mound of softened, smoky eggplant. Using your wooden utensil (Romanians insist that you cannot use metal for this), chop and mash the eggplant until it is a fairly homogenous paste.
Transfer the mashed eggplant to a medium nonreactive bowl and begin to drizzle in the sunflower oil by droplets. This is basically the same process as making mayonnaise. Keep stirring the eggplant as you gradually add oil. You will notice that the eggplant becomes more homogenous and almost fluffy. When the spread has a notably lighter color, the seeds seem less visible, and you have a nice smooth consistency it is ready. This takes about 10-15 minutes of drizzling and stirring. You may not use all of the oil, but the eggplant does absorb a lot.
Fold in the finely chopped onion. Season with salt, pepper and lemon.
Garnish with olives, tomatoes, other vegetables and serve as an appetizer with bread, crackers, crudites etc. Its amazing how something so simple can have such a complex taste.