Sometimes, you just have to get away from tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes are the flavor of summer. No one can argue this! But when that glut of tomatoes comes, even if they’re really good tomatoes, sometimes you want something else. Something unique. Something without tomatoes.
Enter the eggplant.
There are entire cuisines based upon the eggplant. In the medieval Middle East, eggplants grew when few other fruits would grow. They were probably small and bitter but they were the vegetable queens, cooked in a thousand ways. Late summer here, when few other plants are still producing fruit in the long days and high humidity, is the season of the eggplant. You’d think we’d have more of an eggplant cuisine. Yet when I ask the farmers at the market how they cook the eggplant they grow, their answer is invariably “breaded and fried”. Frying is the absolute last thing I want to do in the heat of summer.
Grilling on the other hand is something we do once a week at least, usually on Sundays. There are always hot coals left when the food for that meal is done. That’s the perfect time to throw on a few eggplants, peppers, corn on the cob, whole fresh chiles, whole heads of garlic, anything that can use a good blackening and some smoky flavor. The low coals will provide a long, slow roasting during dinner and then you have smoky roasted vegetables for another meal without heating up your kitchen with the broiler.
Roasted Pepper & Eggplant Summer Salad
Don’t skip the fresh oregano!
1 large eggplant
3 sweet bell peppers, any color except green
6 kalamata olives, pitted and torn apart (or any good olive of your choice)
1 whole head of garlic
1/3 c loosely packed fresh oregano, minced
1/4 c loosely packed fresh parsley, minced
2-3 tbl good quality balsamic vinegar
3-4 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Put whole eggplant, peppers, and garlic on the grill over low coals, or in the corners if the coals are still hot. Cover and allow to blacken, turning occasionally, until the skins are blackened on all sides and the peppers and eggplant have completely collapsed. Put in a large bowl and set aside until cooled.
Peel the eggplant and cut off the stem. Discard the skin and stem. Chop the flesh roughly. Carefully peel the loosened skins off the peppers and discard the skins. Then pull the stem out of the top of the pepper slowly, most of the seeds will come with it. Tear the pepper in half and wipe out any remaining seeds. Do not rinse with water! A few seeds or bits of burnt skin won’t hurt anyone. Roughly chop the pepper flesh. Then carefully peel off four cloves of garlic. Squeeze the soft garlic out of the peel and lightly chop. Set aside the rest of the head of garlic for another use.
Combine the eggplant, peppers, garlic, fresh herbs, and olives in a bowl. Add the smaller amount of olive oil and vinegar, stir thoroughly, and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cover and allow the marinate overnight in the fridge. Taste and add more salt, pepper, vinegar, or olive oil if necessary. The eggplant and peppers will let go of a lot of moisture so you don’t need much olive oil.
This amount is one lunch for a hungry person, or a side dish for 4 people.