You Don’t Need a Grill to Grill Eggplants

It’s no secret that I love eggplant, and over the years I’ve cooked all meals cold in the sun – with one glaring exception. Due to the fact that there was no place for grilling at home, and I did not want to turn on the oven in the summer, the fried eggplants remained my culinary beluga whale. Still.

My new favorite eggplant cooking technique is from Chris Yenbamrun, the chef of NIGHT + MARKET in Los Angeles , who I follow on Instagram mostly for his amazing culinary stories. In his Paolo eggplant recipe, he uses an ingenious trick I’ve never seen before: instead of salting the eggplant and frying it in liters of oil, he tosses raw, completely unprepared slices into a salted pan without oil. … The slices of cooked eggplant are topped with copious amounts of olive oil, garlic, chili flakes and herbs like lasagne. Obviously, I should have tried.

When I first tried this technique, all I had on hand was a pair of sad, squishy eggplants that had been hanging out in my fridge for over a week. Even these old-fashioned samples tasted phenomenal thanks to this preparation, and the second batch I made with super-fresh eggplant for the purposes of this article was even better. As I learned in a funny way, when I brushed the excess off a hot piece of eggplant, sodium chloride crystals keep warm like crazy; any moisture that comes out of the eggplant evaporates when it gets on the hot salt. The surface remains relatively dry, resulting in a deep, even darkening. This is not a charcoal grill, but the result is as smoky and sweet as the best grilled eggplant I have tried and with a silky texture.

The technique itself is very simple. Simply slice the eggplant lengthwise or crosswise into 1 / 4-1 / 2-inch slices. Heat a nonstick skillet (or a very well-aged cast iron skillet) over medium to high heat. When hot, add a pinch or two of table salt (or fine sea salt) to the skillet. Place the eggplant wedges on top. Turn them over after a couple of minutes. When they are charred on both sides to your liking, transfer them to a bowl or dish. Repeat until you run out of eggplants, adding a pinch of salt as needed.

Now comes the fun part: the condiments. Since you haven’t used the oil yet, an essential oil of your choice is a must – it will make the eggplants tender and juicy, not leathery. Also, there are no wrong answers. Even the way you assemble the dish is up to you: sprinkle the eggplant with oil and flavors like Yenbamrun does, or chop it up and stir like a salad.

If you already have the right combination of aromatic oil, onions, and herbs, use it. If not, here are some suggestions:

  • Sesame oil, garlic, ginger, green onions, gochujang, and rice vinegar
  • Olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, capers, olives and parsley
  • Peanut butter, fish sauce, lime juice, sweet chili sauce, cilantro, and chopped peanuts
  • Yogurt, olive oil, dill, lemon juice and garlic
  • Homemade chili oil , soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar and sesame seeds
  • Olive oil, chopped ripe tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar

The right amount and ratio will vary depending on your preference and the amount of eggplant cooked, so sample them along the way. Once it’s perfectly seasoned, you can eat the eggplant right away or leave it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Either way, you’ll end up with an incredibly flavorful vegetable dish, perfect to serve with meat, bread and cheese, rice, or on its own.

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