Meat can really hog the spotlight when it comes to grilling. But sometimes, a beautifully grilled vegetable comes along and steals the show. This is what happened here for me, with this eggplant from The Big-Flavor Grill, by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby.
Inch-thick slabs of eggplant are grilled until golden and soft (but not floppy) and, just before they come off, are brushed with puckeringly transformative pomegranate molasses. Salty, creamy feta cheese mixed with olive oil and fresh thyme cool the smoky eggplant, and a dusting of Maras pepper flakes imparts fruity, earthy heat. Of all the leftovers from our day of grilling, this is what I wanted most for dinner the next night.
Why I picked this recipe: I love eggplant, and I could eat feta and pomegranate molasses on pretty much anything without complaint.
What worked: The recipe is so simple: other than olive oil, salt, and pepper, there are just 5 ingredients. They come together in an elegant way.
What didn't: There was too much thyme for my taste; it overwhelmed the other flavors.
Suggested tweaks: Start with 1 tablespoon of the thyme, and add more to your taste. If you can't find the Maras pepper flakes (if there's a Middle Eastern market near you, you might get lucky), substitute the more widely available Aleppo flakes. The peppers are cousins (Maras from Turkey, Aleppo from Syria) and have similar flavor profiles, though the Maras is a bit hotter.
Reprinted with permission from The Big-Flavor Grill, by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, copyright 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House LLC.
- Yield:Serves 4 as a side dish
- Active time: 20 minutes
- Total time:45 minutes
- 1 cup crumbled feta
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 large or 2 small eggplants, about 2 pounds total, cut lengthwise into planks about 1 inch thick
- 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses, or 2 tablespoons regular molasses mixed with 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
- 1 tablespoon Maras pepper flakes
Build a two-level fire in your grill, which means you put all the coals on one side of the grill and leave the other side free of coals. When the flames have died down, all the coals are covered with gray ash, and the temperature is medium (you can hold your hand 6 inches above the grill for 4 to 5 seconds), you’re ready to cook.
PREP: While the fire heats up, place [the feta, the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and the thyme] in a medium bowl and toss gently to combine.
GRILL: Rub the eggplant planks on both sides with the [1/4 cup of] oil, sprinkle them generously with the salt and pepper, then put them on the grill directly over the coals and cook until golden brown on the outside and translucent all the way through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. About 30 seconds before the eggplant planks come off of the grill, brush them with the pomegranate molasses. (Be careful not to overcook these, and try to maintain some rigidity, since the eggplant should not be floppy when cooked.)
TOP: Remove the eggplant planks from the grill, put it on a platter and sprinkle evenly with the feta mixture, then sprinkle it with the Maras pepper flakes.