A few years ago I attended a drop-in party at the home of a co-worker. Never in my life had I been to a house party that had so much food...I had to carefully select which items I would try and, as is my nature, I opted to taste new things rather than the standard appetizer fare that was also available. Now, eggplant is one of those vegetables that I must say I had never enjoyed. I had tried this vegetable in eggplant Parmesan and in ratatouille and found not only the texture unappealing but the lack of flavor was, quite frankly, a turn-off for me. Anyway, at this party there was a platter of grilled eggplant (served cold) that smelled so wonderful that I just had to give it a try, despite my previous disappointments. One bite and I thought I had died and gone to heaven- the flavor was Incredible! Tantalizing! Magnifico! My taste buds stood up and...well you get the point. Who knew eggplant could taste like this?
The first couple of times I made this at home it just didn't taste the same. I followed the hand-written recipe given to me by my co-worker exactly but something was not quite right. I fiddled with the ingredients and the quantities a bit but in the end I decided that I would use the basic idea and build on it with a few ideas of my own. The result? My eggplant dish now tastes as good as I remember it tasting at the house party- flavorful and tangy with just enough garlic and lemon to wake the taste buds up. This would make a nice side-dish served warm, but because of the sharp flavor, I prefer to serve it as an appetizer in an antipasti platter. If you like zesty flavor, you will love this dish!
Mediterranean-Style Grilled Eggplant
1 medium eggplant, washed and sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds (I like to use the Japanese eggplant)
1/2 of a small red pepper, roasted and finely diced
1 small shallot, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/4 cup crumbled feta
Crush the garlic clove into a small bowl and add a good pinch of salt and stir into a paste. Add the shallot and lemon juice and let sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile, turn on the barbeque grill and heat to medium. After a few minutes whisk 3 Tbsp. olive oil into the garlic mixture along with the cumin, cayenne and a pinch of salt; set aside.
Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place them on the barbeque, cover and grill on medium heat until the bottoms show grill marks (3 or 4 minutes) Turn the slices over and grill for 3 or 4 minutes more. **You can also saute these in a frying pan until they brown on both sides. You want the slices to be soft but not mushy. Remove the eggplant to a serving platter; spoon the vinaigrette mixture over the eggplant, being careful to evenly distribute the garlic and shallot. Top with chopped cilantro, feta and diced red pepper. Serve warm or cold.