lIt took me a while to love eggplants. As a child my palate could not appreciate my mother’s started bhaj, a simple Bengali preparation of fried aubergines with turmeric and salt. “They’re too slimy!” I would wail if she rolled her eyes and served them to less thankless members of the family. Years later, I rediscovered them through the myriad ways they appear in Middle Eastern dishes: stuffed and grilled and turned into delicious dips. And by cooking them myself, I learned to love them in Indian cooking too – even the dreaded bhaja of my childhood.
Grilled aubergine salad with roasted grapes, feta, croutons and balsamic vinegar
With this dish I tried to indicate the delicious smokiness of baba ganoush. Although the eggplant is cooked in a pan rather than over a flame, the slices take on a smokiness, just like the bread. You do need a hot, cast iron pan for this – a skillet or griddle would be ideal.
Preparation 5 minutes
Cook 30 minutes
250g seedless red grapes
1 eggplant (about 300 grams)
2 tsp ground cumin
100 g stale sourdough (or other bread), thickly sliced and sliced 2cm Die
300 g curled leaf lettucecoarsely chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint leavesminced meat
50 g feta or soft goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 200C (180C Fan)/390F/Gas 6. Place the grapes in a small baking dish, sprinkle with a little salt and roast for 20-25 minutes, turning the dish halfway through to make sure they cook evenly. The grapes are ready when their skins have wrinkled and they have lost some of their juice.
Meanwhile, cut the aubergine into 1.5 cm thick slices. Brush liberally with olive oil (you’ll need one or two tablespoons), followed by a pinch of salt and cumin. Working in two batches, cook the aubergine slices in an oiled griddle pan or iron skillet over low to medium heat for four to five minutes on each side, until well browned.
Set the aubergine aside, scrape the burnt bits from the pan and return to high heat. Pour in a tablespoon of oil and add the pieces of stale bread and a good pinch of salt. Swirl the bread around the pan for about four minutes, until well toasted throughout, then remove from the pan and turn off the heat. Let the pan cool for a few minutes, then add another tablespoon of olive oil, followed by the chopped lettuce. Stir for a minute, just to warm up the leaves and cover them in the oil, but don’t let them get hot enough to wilt.
Divide the lettuce between two plates, tear the aubergine slices into cubes and sprinkle with the mint, grapes, bread and cheese. Drizzle over a generous splash of balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.