As a vegetarian, eggplant is pretty important to me. Not because I eat it so often, necessarily, but because it’s a popular vegetarian option in restaurants. When I dine out, I might go hungry if I didn’t like it. Luckily, I think eggplant is fantastic. It has a firm smooth texture and a complex earthy flavor, a little bitter, sweet, and nutty.
At home, I mostly use eggplant by incorporating it into other dishes, like to thicken a marinara, or by making it the star of a main dish. I don’t often use eggplant as a side dish. Side dishes tend to be simple, relying on the natural flavor of a few ingredients. A salad, roasted veggies… these are really all about the vegetables. This is the first side dish I’ve made where the eggplant is truly on its own, and it shines.
The vinegar adds a tang, but mostly it’s about the sweet earthy flavor of the eggplant. It goes great with antipasti or as a side dish for a Mediterranean-style dish. (Last night, I made this pasta dish and served the eggplant on the side. It was a perfect summery meal). Take the jar out of the fridge as you start prepping dinner. The pieces should be brought to room temperature and let to drain or drip before serving so they aren’t too oily.
We have a charcoal grill, and when we use it I try to grill extra food so I don’t feel like I’m wasting the heat or the effort. This recipe is a great way to use some of that extra heat, and you can prep the eggplant before you start dinner and have it ready to grill after you’ve eaten. Wait until coals have cooled, so you can cook the eggplant slowly and without too much char.
Grilled Eggplants in Olive Oil
(I got this recipe from my new favorite book, Salt Sugar Smoke, by Diana Henry.)
1 large eggplant (or, as here, 2 Asian eggplants)
Olive oil, for grilling
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, possibly more
2 sprigs of thyme
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1. Cut the eggplants lengthwise into slices about ¼” thick. Salt and layer in a colander to draw out moisture. After a half hour, rinse and pat dry.
2. Coat eggplant (both sides) in olive oil*. Grill or roast. If you roast, but on a baking sheet and roast at 425 for about 20 minutes, turning once. If you grill, wait until the grill is slightly cooler and grill the eggplant until they are soft and have turned a little translucent. It took me about 5 minutes per side.
3. Put the EVOO in a saucepan with the thyme, and heat gently over medium heat for about 4 minutes. Reduce heat and add vinegar and eggplant. Bring to a boil, and immediately remove from heat. Let cool.
4. Remove the eggplants from the oil, and put into a clean jar, packing tightly. Remove the thyme from the oil, and pour oil into jar. Make sure the eggplant is completely covered. If you need more oil just add to the mix. Seal the jar and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated and use within a month.
*Because eggplant is spongy, it can absorb a lot of oil (this is sort of the point of this recipe, to be fair). If you drizzle the oil over the slices, it will absorb right away and not be spreadable, ending up in uneven coverage. A better (and fun) way is to oil up your hands and then manhandle each slice. Or, if you’re not into that, use a brush to spread the oil.