Charred eggplant, Eastern Mediterranean style.
Eggplant, a staple across the Eastern Mediterranean, is often served as a mezze, paired with a main dish of meats, or for this recipe, served with an aromatic roasted turmeric M’hammar chicken.
Recalling a Pan–Fried Eggplant recipe from Saveur Magazine got me thinking about using the same charring method I used for broccoli for a recent post. Certainly, bringing out the deep flavors of the regional favored flame or oven roasting was what I was after! The results, hearty sweet charred eggplant paired with a spiced currant vinaigrette.
Charred Eggplant with Spiced Currant Vinaigrette serves 4
For the eggplant:
- 2 medium eggplants
- sea salt
- 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ½ cup olive oil
- reserved crisped garlic slices
- chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
- fresh coriander leaves
Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1/3 inch slices. Lay the slices on a rack set over a sheet pan and salt generously with sea salt, rubbing the salt evenly over the surface. Turn the slices over and repeat the same procedure. Set aside for 1 to 2 hours, turning now and again. This will draw out the moisture and bitterness from the eggplant as well as eliminate excess moisture that may leach into the oil when charring.
Rinse the eggplant slices to remove the salt and return them to the rack to air dry for about 1 hour. Then pat each slice with paper towels and set on a large plate, ready for charring.
While the eggplant is draining and drying, go ahead and slice the garlic and set aside. Make the currant vinaigrette and prepare the chopped parsley and coriander leaves for garnishing.
Currant Vinaigrette: makes 2/3 cup
- 4 tablespoons dried currants
- ¼ cup Cassissee (French currant aperitif)
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chile flakes
- 2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon anise seeds, coarsely ground
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2/3 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place the currants, Cassissee, and red wine vinegar in a small stainless sauce pan over medium heat and simmer the currants until they are plump and the liquid has been reduced into a syrup. Set aside to cool.
In a non reactive bowl, combine the shallots, sea salt, ground pepper, chile flakes, toasted cumin seeds, anise seeds, and lemon juice. Stir until well combined. Add the cooled currants and remaining syrup and mix well. While whisking, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream and continue to whisk until well combined. Taste and add additional salt or olive oil to taste. Set aside for immediate use, or cover and refrigerate for longer storage.
Charring the eggplant:
It is preferable to do the charring outside if at all possible, as there will be considerable smoke and splattering. A butane cooker, or grill, fitted with a large stainless steel skillet is ideal. Otherwise be prepared to crank up your exhaust hood before you begin charring in the kitchen.
Prepare a paper towel lined tray for the charred eggplant.
Add enough olive oil to the pan to evenly coat bottom. Place over medium high heat and add the sliced garlic. As soon as the garlic begins to color remove it promptly and set aside to use as a garnish later.
Once the oil in the pan is nearly smoking add a single layer of eggplant to the pan without crowding. Cook 1 minute and turn. Cook another minute and turn, and a final turn cooking 1 minute longer. The eggplant should be nicely colored and charred in spots. Remove the eggplant promptly to drain on paper towels.
Add a little more olive oil to the pan if needed and allow the heat to build to the near smoking point before adding the next batch of eggplant. Continue charring in batches until all the eggplant is finished. Set aside while you prepare to plate and garnish. The eggplant is best just slightly warm or at room temperature for serving.
Finishing and serving:
Arrange the eggplant on a platter or individual serving plates. Spoon the currants and vinaigrette sparingly onto each round. Garnish with chopped parsley, coriander leaves, and the crisped garlic slices.