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
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 2 teaspoons juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 pounds eggplant, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1. Combine oil, garlic and pepper flakes in bowl. Microwave, uncovered, until garlic is golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes. Strain garlic oil through fine-mesh strainer into small bowl. Reserve garlic oil and crispy garlic separately.
2. Combine yogurt, mint, 1 tablespoon garlic oil, the lemon zest and juice, cumin and 1/4 teaspoon salt in separate bowl; set aside while preparing eggplant.
3A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
3B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn all burners to medium-high.
4. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Brush eggplant all over with remaining garlic oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange half of eggplant on grill and cook (covered if using gas) until browned and tender, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. Repeat with remaining eggplant. Serve eggplant with yogurt sauce and sprinkle with crispy garlic.
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