Great techniques, quality flavors transform mild eggplant
Have you been stumped by what to do with the piles of beautiful eggplants you see at farmers markets each summer? This recipe is your answer.
Few vegetables love smoke and char as much as eggplant does. This often-misunderstood vegetable becomes tender and smoky on the grill, where it soaks up flavor and seasonings. When it's done well, grilled eggplant is fantastic. Unfortunately, most of the grilled eggplant that we've had (including, sad to say, some that we've grilled ourselves) have ended up either leathery or spongy and bland.
As with many items that you put on the grill, the size of the pieces is key because you want each piece to simultaneously get good char -- on both sides -- and become tender. After testing planks and rounds, we found that the latter was easier to cook and serve. And the perfect thickness was 1/4 inch, which made for slices that were just tender by the time they were nicely marked by the grill.
Since eggplant is something of a blank canvas for other flavors, we decided to brush it with a flavored oil before placing it on the grill. Garlic and chiles are natural partners for eggplant, but we'd have to use heat to get them to give up their flavor to the oil. Instead of dirtying a saucepan, we turned to the ever-handy microwave.
We stirred five minced garlic cloves and a good pinch of red pepper flakes into some olive oil and microwaved the mixture until the garlic turned golden. Now the oil had roasted garlic flavor and a little spring in its step from the red pepper flakes. Strained and brushed on the raw eggplant rounds, the oil generously spread its flavor around.
Grilled eggplant is delicious on its own, but it's even better with a creamy sauce. With "easy" as our mantra, we looked to the Middle East for inspiration -- they're masters of eggplant cookery in that region. We mixed yogurt with lemon juice and zest, cumin, mint, and some of the flavored oil. This no-cook, stir-together sauce proved the perfect foil for the smoky, garlicky, slightly spicy eggplant.
Grilled Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce
Serves 6 to 8
Note: For spicier eggplant, increase the amount of red pepper flakes to 1/4 teaspoon.
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil