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Saturday, July 30, 2016


Whether broiled, deep fried, baked, grilled, pan fried, simmered, or stewed, eggplant is a very versatile member of the nightshade family that takes a winning spin with almost any preparation. That said, nothing develops the earthy custard-like creamy meatiness of eggplant more than a down and dirty char.

Right now, tomatoes and eggplant are more than abundant at our local farmers' markets. Strewn across the farm tables with other gorgeous high-season produce, rows and rows of heirloom tomatoes line up side by side with baskets of eggplant varieties splashing the markets in sweeping vibrant colors. It's a bit overwhelming, humbling, and altogether beautiful.

Summer fun.
What grows together, goes together.

Charred Eggplant Salad with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette.
Sure, a broiler or stove top open gas flame would have been dandy for a fine blistered skin with softened inner flesh. Sometimes, more is more. I went the full monty with a full out char.

After igniting charcoal in an outdoor grill, I let the coals crumble into glowing embers before cradling slender Pulaski County White Casper, striped Boyle County Fairy Tale, and bulbous Casey County Black Beauty eggplant varieties into the burning coals.  I poured a glass of wine, pulled up a chair, and used long handled tongs to turn the eggplant every 15 minutes or so until they started to blister, collapse, and blacken. More is more. I let them go another 15-20 minutes (turning them often) until they were ridiculously charred before carefully lifting them from the grill, placing them over a wire rack, gently slipping off their burned brittle skins, and setting the naked eggplant flesh aside.

While the eggplant cooled, I placed 1 1/2 pounds of on-the-vine Marion County tomatoes into a cast iron skillet, drizzled them with olive oil, seasoned them with a dusting of kosher salt along with a few grinds of cracked black pepper, and slid the tomatoes into a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Just before the tomatoes imploded, I pulled them from the oven and set them aside.

Fire and Nice.
When the roasted tomatoes were cool enough to handle, I removed them from the cast iron skillet, reserved a few whole tomatoes, and grated the remaining ones on a box grater fitted over a sturdy bowl (old school). After pressing the juicy pulp through a fine mesh strainer, I scraped the good stuff from the bottom of the strainer and stirred it into the tomato jus before adding 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper to form a loosey-goosey broken vinaigrette ( roughly, 3/4 cup tomato jus, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2
tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste).

With everything at room temperature, I nestled the creamy eggplant (halved or left whole, depending on size and variety) into puddles of the roasted tomato vinaigrette and rested the reserved whole roasted tomatoes to the side before finishing with fresh Green Tiger tomatoes, baby Sun Golds, extra virgin olive oil, flecked feta, and snipped garden chives.

Kissed with smoke, the char-steamed eggplant flesh melted into the tomato jus. With a mere whisper the whole roasted tomatoes split open, giving texture and body to the vinaigrette.  Brightened by the fresh lemon and rounded out with fruity olive oil, the broken vinaigrette masqueraded as a wonderful and refreshingly light tomato sauce. An accidental summer win. While the fresh baby heirlooms countered the warm depth of the roasted tomatoes, the chive/feta combo crashed the tomato-eggplant party with brash grassy sharp tang. Flavor bombs.

Charred eggplant with summer tomatoes.

Fresh from the ashes.


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