This recipe for Eggplant Salad (which I serve as an appetizer) comes from one of my favorite books, HONEY FROM A WEED, by Patience Gray (Harper and Row, 1986). The book is a love story on every level, not least about the simplicity of growing and foraging ingredients in various parts of Italy, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia, then turning them into heavenly tastes. I have used this book for years as a reference, a go-to when I’m looking to “place” an idea or a recipe I’ve tasted. It’s a lovely, poetic read, and even lovelier to cook from. This summer I went back to it to see what Patience Gray did with eggplant, and found this incredible recipe that feeds my grilling and my eggplant passions, and results in the most amazing salad with a taste of smoke, a taste of garlic and mostly, a taste of eggplant. This is simply magnificent, and I offer it as an hommage to Patience Gray and HONEY FROM A WEED.
The recipe calls for eggplant to be grilled right on wood, which I did and you can do easily in your grill. Build a fire with all-wood briquettes (what you should use anyway) – see FRENCH GRILL for more information, then set the eggplant right on the wood, no grill. They wind up tender and silken, and not so smoky that you can’t taste their flavor. For this version I used a white and a striated eggplant, both slightly milder than the purple variety. Use what you find; if you have a choice though, use the milder varieties. You’ll notice I served this with a side of heirloom tomato wedges. They’re the ideal foil for the eggplant salad.
Below is the original recipe from HONEY FROM A WEED. I’ve also put it into a more traditional format, for your pleasure!
MELINTZANOSALATA – Aubergine (Eggplant) Salad
This delicious Greek dish is served chilled in summer; it can be made in the cool of the early morning.
Make a vine-twig fire out of doors and, when it flares up, put a number of young shiny aubergines on a grill directly on the flames. Keep the fire going fiercely and, when the undersides blacken, turn them over. In 10 or 15 minutes they will be pulpy (they collapse) and completely black.
Empty the aubergines of their pulp by cutting them in half, and remove some of the seeds if they are too numerous. Then, in a basin or large mortar, pound 2 or 3 cloves of peeled garlic, put in and pound the pulp, adding the juice of 2 or 3 lemons which will blanch the preparation, and salt.
Beat in 2 raw egg yolks, then pour in a thread of olive oil. Aim at the consistency of cream. Add some capers, rinsed of their liquor, and some freshly chopped parsley or basil leaves. Sere for supper out of doors with hard-boiled eggs, black olives and good bread.
- 2 large (about 12 ounces;360g) each very firm and fresh eggplant
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon capers rinsed
- 1 to 2 tablespoons (or to taste) olive oil
Build a small fire in the grill. Whe the coals are very hot, throw some grape vine or other fruit cuttings on them and place the eggplant right in the flames. Leave them there until the side touching the coals is black, which will take 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the eggplant and leave them on the fire until they are black all over, another 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the eggplant and let them sit until they are cool enough to handle, then scoop out all the flesh.
In a mortar, coarsely crush the garlic with the salt and the capers until you have a thick puree. Add the eggplant pulp and pound it until it is smooth and well blended with the other ingredients. Stir in the lemon juice, then add the egg yolk and stir with the mortar until the mixture is creamy and pale green. This all goes together very quickly.
Transfer the salad to a serving dish, then drizzle with the oil. Serve with toast.