IIt took me a while to like eggplants. As a child, my palate could not appreciate my mother’s start bhaja, a simple Bengali preparation of fried aubergines with turmeric and salt. “They’re too slimy!” I would whine as she rolled her eyes and served them to the less ungrateful members of the family. Years later, I rediscovered them through the myriad ways they appear in Middle Eastern cuisine: stuffed and grilled and made into delicious dips. And, by cooking them myself, I also learned to love them in Indian cuisine – even the dreaded bhaja started from my youth.
Grilled eggplant salad with roasted grapes, feta, croutons and balsamic
I tried to hint at the delicious smoke of the baba ganoush with this dish. Although eggplant is cooked in a skillet rather than over a fire, the slices take on a smoky flavor, just like bread. However, you need a hot cast iron skillet to achieve this – a skillet or griddle would be ideal.
Preparation 5 minutes
To cook 30 minutes
250g seedless red grapes
1 eggplant (about 300g)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
100g stale sourdough (or other bread), thickly sliced and cut into 2cm dice
300g curly leaf lettucecoarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaveschopped
50 g fresh feta or goat cheese
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/Gas 6. Put the grapes on a small baking sheet, sprinkle with a little salt and roast for 20-25 minutes, turning the plate once halfway through, to make sure they cook evenly. The grapes are ready when their skin has wrinkled and they have lost some of their juice.
Meanwhile, cut the aubergine into 1.5 cm thick slices. Brush generously with olive oil (you’ll need a tablespoon or two), followed by a pinch of salt and cumin. Working in two batches, fry the eggplant slices in an oiled frying pan or iron skillet over low-medium heat for four to five minutes on each side, until golden brown.
Set the eggplant aside, scrape up any burnt bits from the pan, then return to high heat. Pour a tablespoon of oil and add the pieces of stale bread and a generous pinch of salt. Keep the bread moving around the pan for about four minutes, until toasted, then remove it 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 the leaves and coat them in the oil, but don’t let them get hot enough to wilt.
Divide the lettuce between two plates, tear the eggplant slices into pieces and arrange them on top with the mint, raisins, bread and cheese. Drizzle with a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.