Ever since I quit vegetarianism, I enthusiastically add bacon to everything, even perfectly good meat-free dishes like this one. This dish reminds me of something a vegan friend of mine used to make on a charcoal grill, rendering the meaty-textured eggplant smoky and even more satisfying. I have a gas grill, which imparts no such depth of flavor. I have discovered, though, that a few drops of liquid smoke can help create a reasonable facsimile. (If you grill over charcoal or wood, definitely skip the liquid smoke.)
And what smoky-tasting dish isn't enhanced by a little bacon? I can't think of any. That's how I like this hearty main-course salad. But if you have vegetarians or vegans coming to your Labor Day cook out, omit the bacon and you'll still have substantial meal that even the burger-eaters will want to try, too. The recipe doubles easily. If you are only making it for one or two, scale it down, because leftovers don't keep well. Good thing you'll want to scarf it up immediately.
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled
- 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1-inch thick rounds
- 1/2 baguette, sliced on the bias into 1-inch thick ovals
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 15 whole basil leaves
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
- 3 slices (about three ounces) bacon, fried until crisp and chopped (optional)
Pre-heat your grill to medium-high. Combine the oil, liquid smoke if using, salt and pepper in a small bowl and brush onto the eggplant. Arrange the eggplant slices on the grill and cook without touching for about 3 minutes. Flip, and grill about 3 minutes on the other side. Grill the bread for about 1 minute per side, just until crisp and charred in spots, and then rub both sides of each slice with the raw garlic. Set both the eggplant and bread aside.
Whisk together the shallot, red wine vinegar, and olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the dressing with the tomatoes and basil. Chop the eggplant and bread slices into cubes that are about 1-inch square and toss with the tomatoes, dressing, and basil. Add the bacon, and serve immediately.