How often has this happened to you? The smell of someone grilling in their backyard stops you in your tracks. The rich smoky wafts of something caramelizing on the bbq are intoxicating. And while I do adore grilled meats and fish, where I really spend most of my creative cooking energy is on those summer grilled vegetables. Vegetables are meant to be grilled. And not just in the form of a kabob.
Recently, I heard the best public radio chat on how to grill like a pro over the summer. Mostly the banter between the three chefs was meat focused, but then, one of the chefs brilliantly suggested that taking a large globe eggplant and stuffing it with garlic, wrapping it in tinfoil, and throwing it on top of the charcoals was the way to go. The finished grilled eggplant was cut open like a potato and dressed like a mozzarella and tomato salad–with olive oil, salt, and a little balsamic vinegar.
Are you drooling? I was. No, really. It was hard to concentrate on driving! I knew I wanted to try to recreate this luscious image he has planted into my brain, but I was stuck. We don’t have a charcoal grill, just a mini gas Weber grill that literally sits on top of a table out the back door of our small San Francisco apartment. Hmm….grilled globe eggplant was not in my immediate future.
I couldn’t give up. So I figured I’d opt for another variety that would work for my grill, Chinese eggplant. These thinner light purple eggplants are so popular today you can find them in grocery stores all over the country. The best thing about them is that they cook quickly, have great taste and don’t require salting. Now I was ready to grill!
First, I brushed each cut half with a generous amount of olive oil before salting them and placing them down on the searing hot grill for about three to four minutes.
Once I had some nice grill marks on the cut side of each eggplant, I pulled them off the grill. More olive oil was brushed on, and at this stage I added big pinches of my sumac and paprika spices and a little more salt. Placing the two halves back together, I wrapped each eggplant in tinfoil and put them back on the grill for seven to ten more minutes.
The first night we ate them immediately after grilling with all of the fixings I’d dreamed up, but then I discovered something that worked even better–letting them cool in the refrigerator and serving them later to guests as a cool antipasti appetizer helped the smoky but sweet flavors of the grilled eggplant to develop.
Scattered with red and yellow cherry tomatoes.
Crumbled salty feta on top and freshly torn basil.
Drizzled with generous spoonfuls of good balsamic vinegar and fruity extra virgin olive oil.
This is my new favorite antipasti summer side that is sure to make you relish eggplant and want to grill vegetables all summer long. Don’t be shy! Share your favorite summer grilling tips with me–I’m officially addicted to vegetable grilling!
Special thanks to Elle Wildhagen, our photographer and videographer, for this beautiful shoot.
- Chinese eggplant (or fairytale), 4
- Olive oil, about ¼ cup (divided)
- Salt, 1 tsp. (divided)
- Sumac spice, ½ tsp.
- Sweet paprika, ½ tsp.
- Cherry tomatoes, 1 cup
- Balsamic vinegar, 2 TBS
- Feta Cheese, 6-7 oz.
- Basil, ½ cup
- Take 5 minutes to get out all your ingredients, measuring and cooking equipment needed, and place them on a cookie sheet within easy reach.
- Wash all produce.
- Pre-heat grill.
- Cut eggplants into halves. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt.
- Get toppings ready: cut tomatoes into halves, crumble feta, tear basil with your hands.
- Toss cut tomatoes in 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons olive oil and set aside.
- Grill eggplant cut side down on the hotter side of your grill for 4 minutes.
- Take off of the heat and place on a plate. Sprinkle the seared side with the sumac and sweet paprika. Then, wrap each eggplant (the two cut halves back together) in tinfoil. Place them back on the grill over medium low heat, close the lid, and cook another 7-10 minutes (depending on how thick your eggplant are).
- To serve, place cooked eggplant on a big platter. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and balsamic vinegar, top with tomatoes, crumbled feta and basil. Sprinkle more salt and cracked black pepper on top, as desired.
- Culinary note: we tested this recipe with the small light purple variety of eggplants, called Chinese eggplants. They are very different from the globe eggplant we are used to, as they do not require pre-salting and cook very quickly. Another summer variety that would work is called fairytale eggplant. They are small, round and a beautiful speckled purple and white color.
- Cooking equipment: we grilled our eggplant on a very small Weber gas grill (like it fits on a table top!), so do not worry about your grilling equipment—this is an easy summer recipe! Find the hottest part of your grill to sear the eggplant and build some nice flavor. After 3-4 minutes, we pulled ours off the highest heat, and wrapped each one in tinfoil to create the ability for the eggplant to steam and therefore cook quicker on the lower heat area of the grill.
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