Discovering this salad helped me realize that owning a grill is not the key to my summer food happiness. Strange, you might say, since the recipe involves grilling. For that reason, I almost missed out on this surprisingly filling, almost un-salad salad. I live near downtown Stamford, Connecticut, which is awesome in a lot of ways. For starters, I don’t need a car to function, and I can just as easily make my way to New York City as I can to my choice of the many Fairfield County farmer’s markets. One way in which it is far less awesome, though, is in the lack of a proper yard and the illegality of placing a real (i.e., charcoal) grill on the balcony. Rule follower, right here. Our neighbors don’t subscribe to the same philosophy and I can almost reach their grill from my deck…watch out neighbors.
I stumbled upon this recipe after searching too long and hard for a vegetarian dish combining both eggplant, for it’s meatiness, and Thai flavors, which I thought I might be hungry for during the next week. My heart broke (slight dramatization) as I realized it called for a grill not named George Foreman. Because it was way past my bedtime on a Sunday night, though, I got brainstorming and thought I might have some success using the open flame of the gas stove to char the eggplant, getting it nice and smoky and soft enough to peel off the skin and pull the “meat” into strips. Pulled eggplant. It’s the new pulled pork.
I’m going to wrap it up quickly and spare you all the details of the roasting/charring process because I only have one photograph with which to break up the text, and I feel bad subjecting you to a five paragraph essay on my third post here. Essentially, it worked. I think you could actually cook the eggplant any way you want—grill, gas burner, or oven. Just use high heat and keep the thing close to the heat source. If using a gas burner to char, watch the top stem for sparks, prepare for a juicy mess, and note that the cooking time will be much shorter (mine took only about ten minutes). It’s done when it’s wrinkly (and hopefully a bit blackened, although you may not achieve this with the oven) and soft. Use a tongs to try to pick it up—it should be heavy and juicy.
- 1 eggplant (about 1¼ lbs.)
- 6 limes
- ½ red Thai (or other small red) chili
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 small lemon
- ½ avocado (or 1 mini)
- 1 medium carrot
- ½ English or hot house cucumber
- 1 C cherry or grape tomatoes
- ¼ medium red onion
- Small bunch of cilantro
- 2 T tamari or soy sauce
- 2 t brown sugar or honey
- 1 T natural sunflower seed or peanut butter
- 1 t toasted sesame oil
- ¼ C dry roasted peanuts or roasted cashews
- ½ to 1 C dry basmati or jasmine rice
- Grill or roast the washed eggplant. If using a gas flame, place eggplant on burner and light to a medium flame. Make sure the flames don’t surround the eggplant, but just hit the bottom of it. As the eggplant chars in one spot, use a tongs to continually move it, exposing uncooked portions to the flame. Stand the eggplant up and hold with the tongs for a minute or two to expose the bottom to the flame. When charred and heavy, set aside to cool.
- Make the rice according to package instructions. Basmati and jasmine typically cook in 15 to 20 minutes. When done, fluff and cover for serving.
- While the rice cooks: 1) wash and zest one lime for ½ t lime zest; 2) juice limes for ¼ C lime juice (into a glass liquid measuring cup if available); 3) mince the chile and the garlic clove; and 4) wash and zest the lemon for ½ t lemon zest.
- Make the dressing. To the lime juice, add lime zest, chile, garlic, lemon zest, soy sauce, brown sugar, seed or nut butter, and sesame oil and whisk or stir quickly with a fork.
- Cut the top off the eggplant and halve lengthwise. Use your hands (if cool enough) or a fork to tear out strips of eggplant, discarding the large groups of seeds as you go. Put the eggplant in a bowl and coat with 2 tablespoons of the dressing. The warm eggplant will soak up the flavor of the dressing. Set aside while you prep the veggies.
- Prepare and arrange on a large plate or serving platter: avocado, pitted and peeled, sliced, and drizzled with a little lime or lemon juice to keep from discoloring; carrot, peeled and cut into matchstick pieces (or thin, round slices which will save some time); cucumber, thinly sliced on the bias (diagonally); tomatoes, washed and halved (or quartered if especially large); red onion, as thinly sliced as you can get it (a very sharp knife helps); rinsed and dried cilantro (cilantro has thin, edible stems, so don’t worry about pulling off individual leaves); nuts, in a small dish to keep them dry (these can be left whole); and the eggplant.
- Pour additional dressing over the vegetables (except the eggplant).
- Serve the platter family style. I plated the rice individually before serving, but you could also bring it to the table in the pot or a serving bowl. Serve with additional soy or tamari and slices of the remaining limes.