Friday, June 29, 2007


An alley. Three adult men and a young boy pass by, their laughter and voices floating up to where we sit on a back porch three flights up. Loud music blasts out of an apartment across the way. A light comes on in a nearby window. A man comes into view, wearing only his underpants. He walks over to the computer in his study. The window at his desk is shaded and the man disappears into shadow profile. The music stops. An alley inhabitant, drinking his evening beer at the dumpster below, applauds. Summer in Chicago.

We’ve come to visit friends in the city for my birthday weekend. The alley scene is our own private rear window, like the memorable Hitchcock film starring James Stewart as the voyeur and Grace Kelly as his intrepid love interest. As in that movie (set in New York), here in Chicago we have a view into the lives of strangers whose stories we can only guess at. Poverty and affluence, loneliness and camaraderie, tragedy and comedy all in this one spot, in this one evening.

As the man at the dumpster opens another beer, our hosts bring out the cold tapas for our evening meal: garbanzos with mustard greens; potato salad with chopped boiled eggs and a touch of horseradish; a salad of green and black olives and crunchy pearl onions; and roasted eggplant and red peppers in a garlicky marinade. An egg-based tortilla topped with fresh asparagus precedes the main course—seafood paella.

It’s hot and muggy, and when we drive home the next day, the weather hasn’t changed at all. We decide to make the eggplant tapas for our evening meal. It’s quick and easy, and by grilling outside, we can keep heat out of the house. As we eat our meal on the back deck, we’re serenaded by cardinals at the birdfeeder and by our neighbor’s electric saw. Our cats stretch out along the screen door where the breeze is best. We humans provide the rear window action in their feline world.

You can make the roasted eggplant tapas on your own grill. In the heat of the summer, it’s a perfect meal.

Roasted Eggplant in Marinade
2 eggplants, sliced thickly
2 large red peppers, whole
2 lemons, seeded and juiced
¼ cup – 1/3 cup olive oil
4-6 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
Salt, to taste

1. Preheat the grill.
2. Cut the ends off the eggplants. Then cut each eggplant into slices about an inch thick each. Brush a little olive oil onto each side of the slices.
3. Place the eggplant slices and the whole peppers on the heated grill. Turn frequently, keeping the heat somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees.
4. Roast until the skin of the peppers is black and the eggplant slices are nicely blackened and soft—about 20 minutes or so. The peppers and the eggplant will be done at about the same time.
5. Take the vegetables off the grill and allow them to cool before handling. Cut the eggplant slices into bite-sized chunks. Then remove the blackened skin from the peppers along with the stem, seeds, and any remaining pith. Slice peppers into strips and combine with the eggplant in a large serving bowl.
6. To make the marinade, combine the juice of 2 lemons with the olive oil. Stir in the pressed garlic and salt. Drizzle over the eggplant and peppers. Serve at room temperature or cold, whichever you prefer, with slices of crusty baguette or wedges of pita bread.

*Serves 6