Recipe: charred eggplant salad with herbs and tomatoes

Smoky eggplant spreads turn out to be a surprisingly cross-cultural phenomenon, probably because the creamy vegetable carries flavors so well. Most of the versions follow a familiar pattern: the flesh of the eggplant, cooked until soft and smoky + chopped green herbs + acid (either citrus or vinegar) + allium (garlic or onion or both) + oil, because you can never be too rich + spice (cumin or paprika or garam masala or whatever else).

I derived my version from Chowhound, but I’ve included numerous variations below, all of them vegan (I think). This dish isn’t quite what I was shooting for when I hunted up a recipe — I wanted something a bit more chunky, a bit less creamy — but it tasted good and the form of final product probably varies with technique. This person’s attempt, for example, looks just about perfect.

**Ingredients**

* 2 large eggplants
* 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
* 1/4 medium red onion, minced
* 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
* 1/4 cup lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 green onion, thinly sliced
* 3 tablespoons basil leaves, finely chopped
* 3 tablespoons mint leaves, finely chopped
* 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, finely chopped
* 1 medium garlic clove, minced to a paste
* 1 teaspoon cumin, or more
* salt
* pepper

**Directions**

1. Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Add the whole eggplants, and turn every five minutes, allowing the skin to char on every side. When the eggplants collapse after about 30 minutes, remove to cool. Alternatively, place the eggplants directly on the gas ring of your stove to char (yes, this is safe to do). Alternatively, slice the eggplants in half and place under the broiler, skin side down, until cooked through. Alternatively, roast them in the oven until cooked. Basically, you’ve got a lot of options here, but the char is important to getting a smoky flavor.
2. Combine red onion, a pinch of salt, vinegar and lemon juice in a bowl. Allow the onions to marinate at least 5 minutes.
3. Once the eggplant is cool, scoop the flesh from the charred skin and coarsely chop. Combine all the ingredients, add salt and pepper, and adjust seasonings to taste.
4. Serve at room temperature with toasted pita or over rice. Optionally, plain yogurt is a plus.

Serves 4.

**Variations**

Oh, where to start.

* Make this recipe into a soup.
* This version is similar to the one above, but the tomatoes are first pulped and then cooked gently in the oil with the garlic.
* The Indian version is a bit more involved, but I have little doubt that the results are worth it. I think this is next on my list.
* The Thai version substitutes lime and soy sauce for some of the seasonings, and has the good sense to add chopped nuts.
* With capers and olives, this hybrid is halfway to a caponata.
* China gets in on the act.
* I almost forgot baba ghanoush. Of course, you can often buy a pretty decent version of this classic.

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adam

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