Roasted eggplants on the grill – the basic ingredient for endless delicious recipes!
This is how my dad does it. I spent the weekend with my parents and took down notes, pictures and lots of tips and secrets he has accumulated over decades of grilling.
You can skip the story and jump straight to the list of steps here,
But do scroll down for all the secrets that make the perfect eggplant salad.
Also, don't miss the recipe for eggplant salad with peppers and garlic.
My dad says:
"Preparing roasted eggplants requires some patience"
My dad uses coal and coal-starter, no wood.
Break up the fire starter into cubes, put them under the coal pack and light it up. The wrapper will burn and release its content into the grill.
We'll arrange the coal bits nicely, later.
The cats stand around to watch.
We dress up for the sun – long sleeves, hat. Gloves for handling the grill.
My dad was a safety officer in a chemistry lab – his shirt says: "safety is a way of life".
Now he's retired, but good habits stay with you :-)
He gathers all the grill-tools from around the back yard –a long fork and a pair of tongs, while we wait for the coals to catch.
Food on the Mangal, on the grill, is simply "Al Ha-Esh" meaning "on the fire". Eggplants on the fire, that's what we're making here.
Arrange the coals in the grill - spread them evenly.
Now we wait for them heat up, and go prepare the eggplants.
Pick nice hard and shiny eggplants. These will have less seeds inside.
Make a very deep cut along one side of the eggplant. You want to open it up, but DO NOT cut it in two.
We will put them on the grill with the cut facing down, to drain all the fluids.
It's best if there are as little seeds as possible. If the eggplant you have has a lot of seeds, the fluids will be bitter, so you'll have to set the roasted eggplants to drain for another 24 hours after they come off the fire.
Tend to the fire: It takes it's time.
We wait till there's no more yellow fire, only burning coals. Today is windy, which helps. If the air is still you can use a fan. Or a "Naf-naf".
Don't roast vegetables over a yellow flame – only over hot coals.
If you do, the skin will get covered with soot, which gets into the food.
A, it's not healthy, and B, it's bitter.
If you want a smoky effect, put some leaves of a garden herb into the grill – rosemary or za'atar or something like that.
Once the coals turn white the grill is hot enough – it’s time to grill!
Place the eggplants on the grill, with the cut facing DOWN, so all the fluids will drain.
Leave for 10 minutes.
Flip them with the cut up, for another 10 minutes.
While we're here, might as well put more veggies on the grill – how about some sweet peppers? Onions, carrots – whatever you like.
We're going to put the roasted peppers in the eggplant salad, if mom agrees.
Drink some water! and wait in the shade :-)
While we wait for the eggplants to cook, the neighbor gives us some loquat fruits from her tree. This is the season – late April, the trees are bursting with them. They're called Shesek in Hebrew. Look at this tree near my house!
Dad did say in the beginning - this take some patience.
The eggplants are starting to change color from purple to brown.
The pale insides are getting a deeper color. With the cut facing up, they are cooking inside themselves.
You can see bubbles where they are boiling inside, and the most wonderful smell starts to rise.
Turn them again (3rd time), cut facing down. All the fluids will drain, leaving a tender meaty texture.
You can really see the color change, from purple to brown. Where the coals were hotter they've cooked more.
He re-arranges their places on the grill.
"What's great about eggplants," my dad says, "is that they cook inside their natural package :-)"
Test with the fork – are they soft yet?
It's not an Israeli grill, "mangal", without vigorously waving the naf-naf, or as some call it - "le-man-gel".
Basically, you take a piece of hard carton and vigorously wave the air on the grill.
There are more "pro" naf-nafs – here's one that came with a package of hummus, by a renowned Israeli salad manufacturer. The reason there was a mangal fan in the humus package is because hummus is a must in an Israeli barbeque ("al-ha-esh").
Israeli guy 1: "We're having Al Ha-esh on Friday, come! I'll do the kebab."
Israeli guy 2: "Ahla, I'll bring the hummus."
My dad flips them again (4th time), cut facing down again.
Dad: "It looks very meaty, like a good steak. Now we wait another certain time".
Me: "How long is 'a certain time'? "
He laughs and goes off to feed the cats. 'Certain time' turns out to be about 5 minutes. He's been doing this for decades, and doesn't stand around with a stopwatch. He just prods the eggplants with the long fork, playing with them, feeling if they've softened up yet.
They've all softened up.
Now we close the lid of the grill and wait another 10 minutes.
While we wait, we find a suitable large flat bowl, and line it with non-absorbent paper. This paper is like diaper lining –it lets fluids pass thru without soaking or tearing. If you don't have that kind of paper, a colander will do instead.
Place the roasted eggplants on the paper (or colander), and let them cool and drain some more. (Do you see a recurring theme here? LOL)
Now comes the fun part – cleaning them out of their skins. Oohhhh they smell so good!
You'll need a large colander, a matching bowl to hang it in, and a spoon.
Sit down ;) get comfortable, have a coffee. Wait for them to cool down enough to handle.
Take an eggplant, and with the spoon, scrape out the cooked insides from the skin. If burnt bits stick to the good stuff, be sure to get it off. It's not too terrible if a few charred bits make their way into the salad – it will give it a smoky taste, but don't do it on purpose.
We let the roasted eggplant drain in the colander, while my dad cleans up and gets the sweet peppers off the fire. (We got an OK from mom to add them to the eggplant salad, along with some fresh chopped garlic. Yum.)
When the dripping slows to an occasional drip, take the colander and up-end it onto a sheet of paper spread on a chopping board. If you don't have this paper – just slap them on the chopping board.
With a sharp big knife, chop the eggplants in one direction, then across.
Fold them over and chop again.
Chop till you get a texture you like. Some people like a mash, a paste. We prefer a chunky texture.
Chop the roasted peppers and add to the roasted eggplants.
Chop some fresh garlic into slivers and add them too.
Just carry on the rest of the process with the peppers and garlic in the mix.
Put the chopped eggplants back in the colander – to drain some more.
Push the mass around the sides of the colander to improve the draining.
These eggplants were very fresh, and cooked fast and well, and drained well.
If they cooked properly on the fire, you can eat them right away.
If they didn't, or if you got unlucky and the eggplants had lots of seeds, you'll want to set them up to drain for 24 hours.
Slap the mass on a large chopping board.
Chop again if you want it finer.
Spread the roasted eggplants in an even layer.
Now we make "shvilim" – pathways in the mass.
Sprinkle just a bit of salt over the whole mass. The salt will help more fluids come out.
Place the chopping board with the mass on it at an angle over the kitchen sink, or over a big enough pan. The fluids will drain along the pathways.
The Roasted Eggplants are ready when no more fluids come out.
You now have a delicious primary ingredient for endless eggplant salads!
If the eggplants were not very fresh, or if they didn't cook enough on the grill, you can cheat a bit and finish cooking them in the microwave.
Sometimes the stings don't cook all the way.
Put your undercooked eggplants in a couscous dish* – so, you guessed – they can drain as they cook. How much fluid comes out of them in the microwave is related to how under-cooked they were.
*A couscous dish is a pot with two stories – a sieve inside a pot. A kind of steamer.
You now have ready roasted eggplants!
You can continue chopping to the texture you like. Some people like a chunky salad, but some recipes work better with a paste.
This is the version we just cooked – the roasted peppers are already inside the eggplants mix:
Spread a thick layer on toast, or inside a quarter of Pita.
Be-te-a-von! (Bon Appétit)