Grilling is a popular way to prepare eggplant in Greece, Italy, Turkey and beyond, since eggplant’s creamy, tender flesh takes well to smoke and char. Unfortunately, grilled eggplant can easily turn out leathery or spongy.
After a series of tests, we found that 1/4-inch-thick rounds worked best; the interiors became tender by the time the exteriors were nicely grill marked. Since it was necessary to brush the rounds with olive oil so they didn’t stick to the grill, we infused that oil with minced garlic and red pepper flakes.
Microwaving the garlic and pepper flakes in the oil bloomed and enhanced their flavours. We strained the oil, reserving the garlic mixture to sprinkle over the finished dish.
Finally, we prepared a flavourful Turkish-inspired sauce, mixing tangy yogurt with lemon juice and zest, cumin, mint, and a bit of the garlic oil. It is important to slice the eggplant thin so that the slices will cook through by the time the exterior is browned.
GRILLED EGGPLANT WITH YOGURT SAUCE
Start to finish: 45 minutes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 2 teaspoons juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper
2 pounds eggplant, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
Combine oil, garlic, and pepper flakes in bowl. Microwave until garlic is golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes. Strain garlic oil through fine-mesh strainer into small bowl. Reserve garlic oil and garlic separately.
Whisk 1 tablespoon garlic oil, yogurt, mint, lemon zest and juice, cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in separate bowl; set aside for serving.
For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn all burners to medium-high.
Clean and oil cooking grate. Brush eggplant with remaining garlic oil and season with salt and pepper. Place half of eggplant on grill and cook (covered if using gas) until browned and tender, about 4 minutes per side; transfer to serving platter. Repeat with remaining eggplant; transfer to platter. Drizzle yogurt sauce over eggplant and sprinkle with garlic. Serve.