That proverbial dilemma of what to do when having friends over for some impromptu drinks and bites before heading out to a restaurant for dinner?
With eggplants on hand the choice was obvious enough as there was no time for dithering nor last minute shopping. A light, flavorsome flame roasted eggplant concoction would do nicely without being overindulgent as a substantial meal was sure to follow.
Flame roasting is one of my favorite practices in the kitchen. It transforms flavors like no other cooking method, and particularly with eggplant. An ancient cooking method that requires nothing more than fire and a little patience. The charred skin imbues the flesh with a deep smoky flavor that words fail to describe.
The recipe that follows is in essence a Middle Eastern Baba Ghanoush with a few slights of hand that enhance the smoked flavor of the eggplant. No tricky seasoning needed. Pairs beautifully with hummus served along with fresh from the oven pita (see here), or crostini (see here).
Suggested: Try serving with soups, salads, grilled meats or fish, and stews.
Smoky Flame Roasted Eggplant with Garlic and LemonÂ Â makes 1 Â½ cups
- 8 garlic cloves (skin on) pan roasted
- 8 small eggplants (skin on) flame roasted
- 2/3 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper or a pinch or two of hot ground dried red chile
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 6 pitted black olives, sliced into slivers lengthwise (optional)
- 1 tablespoon chopped broad leaf (Italian) parsley
Place the garlic (skin on) in a small skillet set over medium flame. Roast until the skin begins to color, turning with tongs until the garlic is evenly colored on all sides and slightly softened; about 5-6 minutes total. Set the skillet aside until the garlic is cool enough to handle, then peel off the skin and set aside.
Set the eggplants centered on a rack placed over a medium flame . Roast until the skin blackens and is blistered, turning with tongs until all sides are blackened and blistered. Transfer to a platter to cool.
Once the eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel the blistered skin off the flesh. This will take a little patience, but don’t be tempted to peel the skin under running water, which will essentially wash away the smoky flavor you have just created. Instead, rinse your hands instead from time to time. Pulling the flesh upward between two fingers does a good enough job of removing any small bits of skin that may remain, but don’t be concerned. A few charred bits add flavor to the finished dish.
Pull each eggplant into strips beginning at the stem. Place the strips in a colander. Sprinkle with just a pinch of salt and set aside to drain for at least one hour or longer.
The texture of the finished dish is up to you. You can coarsely chop all the eggplant strips and stir in the salt, lemon juice and olive oil until combined. Or, chop about 1/3 of the strips and set aside. Place the remaining strips in a food processor (or blender) along with the remaining salt, lemon juice. Pulse until the eggplant is broken down and relatively smooth. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream.
In either case add the black pepper or, as I prefer, a pinch or two of ground dried red chile, and the lemon zest. Stir to combine, cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
Serve the smoked eggplant garnished with the chopped parsley and sliced black olives (optional). As pictured, serve with hummus, along with fresh pita or crostini.