Eggplant is something I have struggled with for a long time. I really want to like eggplant but so far I have not been successful. I won’t bother with a detailed listing of my eggplant failures but suffice it to say that they have been numerous. However, I am nothing if not persistent and so I decided to give my purple nemesis another try.
One great attribute of eggplants is that they take to the grill very well. Indeed, eggplant might be the ideal grilling vegetable. It is easy to slice seven or eight half inch “steaks” from a mature eggplant making it a cinch to use one plant for an appetizer course. The firm slices hold up very well to the heat of a grill and, if you are grilling outdoors, are large enough that they won’t slip through the grate. The white flesh of the eggplant is an ideal canvas for grill marks which will develop beautifully over the ten minutes or so that the slices are on the grill.
I made up a basic marinade for my eggplant slices from equal parts canola oil and red wine vinegar with some roasted garlic, salt, pepper and paprika thrown in. There are undoubtedly much better marinades for eggplant out there and if anyone would like to share theirs I would love to give it a try! I let the slices soak for about thirty minutes at room temperature and then patted them dry. I let my cast iron grill pan pre-heat for about five minutes over medium heat until a few drops of water sizzled as soon as they hit the pan.
I grilled the eggplant for five minutes on each side and took the opportunity to do a demonstration on grill marks. After the slices had been in the hot grill for three minutes I rotated them ninety degrees and grilled for another two minutes to get the classic cross hatch pattern. You can see that the pattern is present but rather weak.
I then flipped the slices and let them grill another five minutes without moving them. You can see that the sides that got the full five minutes of undisturbed grill contact have much sharper grill marks.
In order to get the best of both worlds, a highly defined cross hatch, I find I have to grill something for about eight minutes on a side; four minutes of grilling, rotate 90 degrees and another four minutes of grilling. I then will flip my food to let it finish cooking. Unfortunately for most foods this results in food that is over cooked on one side.
So how did the eggplant turn out? It was okay; nothing spectacular but definitely a step in the right direction. I might try peeling it before grilling next time. I will also cut back on the vinegar content of my marinade and add some herbs. Any other suggestions?