Grilled Eggplant Dip
Eggplants, AKA aubergines, AKA brinjals, are grown all over the world and come in many various shapes, sizes and colors. Most of us are familiar with the large almost black Italian eggplant, but there are Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Sicilian and white eggplants. A white eggplant is where the name “Eggplant” came from. Each eggplant tastes a bit different, some being more bitter, some more meaty and some have thick or thin skin. What’s great in general about an eggplant is its adaptability to almost any cuisine. It’s like a sponge for flavors and is willing to accept anything. You can fry, sauté, broil, bake or grill them, so if you say that you don’t like eggplant, I say that you just haven’t found the right combination yet.
Summer is winding down and now that Labor Day has passed, some people may be putting the grill cover on for the long haul, but not me. Who ever said that grilling should only be done during the summer? Who wants to be standing next to an open flame only during the hottest time of the year? While you won’t find me looking like a lunatic grilling in the snow or heavy rain, I don’t put the grill away come Fall or even Winter. This eggplant dip gets a good deal of its flavor from the smoke of the grill and that can’t be substituted.
What I like most about this dip is its variety of uses. The flavors from the grilled vegetables blend well with almost anything, so you can simply dip flatbread or pita chips in it, use it to top pasta or put it in an omelet. It has a bit of heat in the front from the cayenne but the garlic, lemon and parsley have a nice fresh, bright taste among the grilled, roasted flavors. Healthy and flavorful is a winning combination and this grilled dip can win over anyone.
3-4lbs Various Eggplants
8oz White Button or Cremini Mushrooms
2 Red Pepper
Half Red Onion
4 Cloves Garlic minced
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Tbs Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Cup Parsley
1 Large or 2 Small Lemons
Salt & Pepper
The great part about grilling vegetables is the small amount of prep to be done, just wash and heat the grill. For this recipe I like to have one side of the grill medium high and another side on medium. The smaller vegetables, such as the mushrooms, half onion, any smaller eggplant and eventually the lemons can go on the medium high side. You want to get some char on them without over cooking, so this is best done hot and quick. Any large eggplant and the red peppers have to cook all the way through, especially the eggplant, and need a good deal of time to do that, so medium heat for those.
Grilled lemons? I read an article on grilled lemonade recently that sounded interesting and bizarre. So I figured, what the hell, I’ll grill these lemons and see if it makes any real difference. The result was, no, I could not discern any grilled lemon notes in the dip, probably because it was a relatively small amount compared to the rest of the ingredients. However, I will say that the flesh became soft and made getting the most out of the lemon very easy. I haven’t given up on the grilled lemons yet. Maybe I will try that grilled lemonade sometime.
What you want for the eggplant and peppers is completely blackened skins. They look ruined if you’ve never done this before, but trust me, underneath will be perfectly roasted vegetable flesh. Another great part about the dip is that it’s best after it chills for a couple of hours, so if one vegetable gets done before the others, it’s no problem. The hardest part is early on when the eggplant is still raw and it doesn’t really want to be turned on any one side, but after it starts cooking it will begin to flatten out.
Let everything cool before trying to handle the vegetables. That sounds obvious, but you may be surprised by the juices that come from the eggplant well after it’s off the grill. Ice water is great to have around for removing the skins, especially for the peppers. I use a three bowl setup; one for the ice water, one for the skins and one for the flesh. Make sure to pull the seeds and ribs from the peppers. After this is done, simply run the vegetables though the processor with the garlic, cayenne, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper until you reach your desired consistency. Fold in the parsley and chill.