Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Burnt" Smoky Eggplant Served over Arugula

Ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cuisine, the eggplant is a versatile and delicious vegetable, whether baked, broiled, grilled, roasted, or fried.   And my favorite method of cooking eggplant by far -- that is, burning it -- elevates the eggplant's flavor and rich texture decidedly.  I hope you will agree that this very basic interpretation of eggplant salad featuring the smoky aroma and taste of charred eggplant intermingled with the sharp, pungent flavors of garlic, mint, parsley and lemon, all served on a bed of spicy arugula, to be a truly memorable and flavorful eggplant salad presentation.  It represents the essence of what eggplant can be at its simplest and best!  

I start off with four Italian eggplants. Italian eggplants have a slender figure and sturdy skin, just perfect for burning.

I place all of the eggplants directly on the stove top burners with the gas set at medium low, and I allow the eggplants to roast slowly, turning often and in various directions.  Soon the kitchen is filled with the delicious aroma of charred eggplant.

The eggplants are done when their outer skin is completely burnt and flaky, and the entire eggplant is very soft to touch, from top to bottom.  This will take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplants.  The finished eggplants should look like this.

Once the charred eggplant is cool, I carefully remove the skin and place the strips and chunks of eggplant pulp into a colander or strainer, and let it drain for at least an hour or more.  This step is often skipped, but ridding the eggplant pulp of extra water provides that rich velvety texture that makes eggplant salad so wonderful.

In the meantime, I assemble the remaining ingredients, including a lemon, a handful each of fresh mint and Italian flat leaf parsley, two scallions, 2 large cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of ground sumac, extra good olive oil, salt and pepper, and 3-4 cups of fresh arugula.  Sumac, with its tart, lemony flavor and deep reddish-purple color, really compliments the smoky eggplant, and can be found in any store that carries a Middle Eastern products and/or a wide-variety of spices.

Next, I place the strained eggplant on a cutting board and chop it all up like so.  Then I mince the garlic and fold that in, along with 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of very good olive oil,1 teaspoon of dried sumac, and salt and pepper to taste.

I adjust the seasonings, and when the flavor tastes just right, I fold in the finely chopped scallion, mint, and parsley, along with about a tablespoon of fresh lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil on top, and I serve it over fresh, spicy arugula.

This eggplant recipe is equally delicious served as an appetizer or meze, accompanied by thin slices of crusty bread or toasted pita triangles for dipping.  What I love most about it is the way the smoky eggplant contrasts so beautifully with the fresh mint in this dish. 

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