Thursday, October 4, 2012

Deceptively easy grilled eggplant: Vegan MOFO Post 3

Eggplants, in my gardener's heart, are one of the loveliest foods you can grow. Truthfully, I only knew two ways of cooking them in my "pregan" days: as a centerpiece in Eggplant Parmesan and also folded into my Dad's Indian Chicken Curry recipe. And yet I have continued to grow them anyway, because it was such a delight to watch their progress, much like witnessing a living painting. I tend to check on them every day in the summer just to marvel at them.

Here are some lovely babies that grew in my garden this year and last.

Early summer, the eggplants are just peeping out their little heads.


They come in so many shapes and sizes.

If you listen hard enough, you can hear them giggle as you lift the leaves.

Eggplants are native to the Indian Subcontinent, which includes the countries of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Wherever I've traveled (unfortunately never to these countries -- yet) I've always sought out the markets to stare blissfully at the eggplants and the hot peppers (a post for another day). France was no exception. I lived there for 9 months back in my early twenties and knew them there as "aubergine," which builds off the french word "alberge," which is an apricot. Like apricots, eggplants are fruit, though we often lump them into the vegetable category. They're also in a class of fruits called "nightshades," which I purposely never looked up because I love the romantic images it conjures up and don't want the scientific information to mar up my poetic thoughts. In English-speaking countries, we came up with the name eggplant, since several varieties do resemble the eggs of a chicken.

Last year, I had the best intentions to cook up my healthy harvest. Alas, it was one of the many fun tasks I never found time to do. And they all ultimately found their way to the compost pile. "NOT THIS SUMMER!" I vowed. And true to my word, I tried a very simple recipe which kept me satisfied all summer and allowed my crop to escape waste: grilled eggplant.

I feel funny even posting it because it's so darned simple. But I feel it's my responsibility to share because it's died-and-gone-to-Heaven-good. Though Ryan still does not enjoy eggplant (it's a texture thing for him, I think) he has often been good enough to grill the eggplant for me, as grilling is one of his summer pleasures.

The eggplant we grew was typically long and slender, so we could just make one slice in the center and they were ready. If you have a larger eggplant, I'd recommend slicing them into 3/4 inch-wide pieces.

Then you can paint them with some olive oil on both sides. (I'm continuing with the living painting analogy here.)

It's hard here for me to focus on the eggplant, when my favorite person is looking so camera-ready.

Throw on some kosher/sea salt and pepper all over them.

And then you throw them on the grill. I think it was a medium-ish heat. Just grill each side a few minutes until it starts to look cooked. You want the inside to be soft.

Here's the final product, ready to eat, skin and all. My mouth is watering looking at this. When you bit into it, the eggplant kind of melts in your mouth and has a very round, satisfying taste that pleases the whole palette.

We (I) enjoyed the eggplant for dinner with a salad that came from the garden (except for the canned cannellini beans), corn on the cob, rice with peanut/tahini sauce, and Swiss chard (cooked up with a teensy bit of oil, lots of garlic, barely a brush of salt, and some cider vinegar splashed in at the end).

As I said, this is an easy eggplant recipe, but the taste is unbeatable. Sometimes all you need is a little olive oil and salt to make the true flavors shine. I really hope you try this, because you'll have a new favorite to throw into your routine.

What are some old stand-bys in your routine?


  1. Looks like a fantastic dinner, and isn't everything better grilled? Thanks for sharing the pictures of the eggplants growing as well -- I don't know if I've ever seen that before! We have no space for a garden, so I always enjoy seeing other folks bounty.

    1. Now that you mention it, Bobbie, everything kind of is better grilled. And there is nothing as lovely as an eggplant. I think they'd do great in a container garden too!

  2. Your grilled eggplant looks so good! My eggplant attempts are always hit and miss. When it comes to making it for baba ganoush purposes (skin on, eggplant intact, just burn the heck out of it on the grill), I do a pretty okay job. However, with slices like you've done, I never seem to get them done enough. Ideas? I wondered if I needed to steam the eggplant slices first to soften them, but you didn't do that here so maybe I'm just not cooking them long enough. Anyway, I love getting eggplant out, but I still haven't mastered it at home.

    1. Hi Cadry,

      The slices we do are pretty thin (3/4 an inch, at the very thickest) and they cook up quickly. I think just cooking them at a lower heat with lots of olive oil on them helps. I tend to check on them a lot (because they're easy to burn)and give them the "smush test" as I grill them. If you push on them with the tongs and they smush under the weight, they're ready. If they're still stiff, I leave them on longer. The skin will often burn a bit, but the insides are wonderous. I also notice that when I put them on the grill, they hold their shape, but when I take them off they kind of flop over on themselves because of the cooked insides.

      I wonder too if the age of the eggplant has something to do with it? We've only grilled eggplants we've picked moments before from the plant. I've never tried it with eggplants from the store, though, and I wonder if they would grill differently? The skins tend to be tougher on store-bought ones, so the insides might be more protected and take longer to cook. I bet steaming would help in that case! :) I'm very curious to hear if it works.

      I hope it works for you because they are just a joy to eat and so quick and simple!