Summer for many of us is synonymous with barbecues and as much as I love to have some juicy chicken wings or a “şiş kebab,” an outdoor grilling session would not be complete without eggplants. Usually consumed in the form of "közlenmiş patlıcan," meaning smoked or roasted eggplants, this dark-skinned end-of-summer vegetable is a great ingredient to create a few different salads and side dishes that complement pretty much anything on your menu. As we slowly approach fall, it might also be a good time to make these in bulk and freeze them to enjoy year-round or when no one wants to bother with firing up the grill again.
How to grill an eggplant
To be honest, it couldn’t be easier. Just wash your eggplants well and place them on the hot barbecue. Softening slowly over time, rotating them every few minutes should do the trick for even cooking. You should prick small holes or poke the vegetables with something sharp like a fork to avoid surprise hot air pockets and explosions but also do not overdo it with the poking as we will want to preserve the juices. Once the eggplants have gone completely soft, set them aside and let them cool off for a bit. Then you can either use your hands or a knife to carefully remove the peel of the eggplants, which should come off easily if roasted sufficiently. Sometimes the “meaty” bits of the vegetable might still stick to the peel, so just scrape that off.
Alternative ways to make it
As much as the smoky flavor you get with this method enhances the eggplant, circumstances might not allow for a barbecue set up, and you might either not have the space (or a garden of your own) or the coronavirus may have hindered such plans.
The first alternative is the mess-free version, which is to bake them in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit). After washing the eggplants, prick them and place them on the baking sheet of your choice. After about 15 minutes, rotate the eggplants and bake them for another 15-20 minutes. Once out of the oven, let them cool off slightly and peel them as we did in the barbecue version.
The second alternative is quite messy, and you’ll need a gas stove. So, you will basically be roasting them over an open fire – no pans, no nothing in between. You can imagine how the burnt peels and bits could mess up the whole kitchen. There are actually pans with longish holes all around to make this procedure less messy but, of course, the choice is yours – though I’d advise against it if you don’t like to clean up. The resulting smoky eggplants are closer in flavor and texture to the barbecued version.
What to make with roasted eggplants
Turkish cuisine has many uses for this smoky wonder and one of the first ones that come to mind is “hünkarbeğendi,” a bechamel sauce-based eggplant mash garnished with some roasted meat. Although a bit on the heavier side (after all, bechamel sauce is not known for its lightness) it is a nice main dish that will wow any guest.
The second main dish, which we previously shared in our recipes of the week, is “alinazik”, which is basically a yogurt and eggplant salad, again garnished with meat. It is a comparatively more stomach-friendly dish for those with lactose intolerances and those can’t handle greasy foods.
When roasting eggplants, Turks also like to make them in bulk, as they do with many other vegetables and spices, and freeze them to be used in the winter months. Some like to cook them with some tomatoes and peppers to be used for “meze” – the Turkish equivalent of the Spanish “tapas.” Of course, every family has their preferred mix of veggies and consistencies in that, so explore your options and stock up for winter.
The list can go on. But one that is worthy of mention is the classic baba ghanoush. Smoked eggplants get mixed and mashed with tahini, olive oil and lemon juice, topped off with a variety of seasoning, and there you have the perfect appetizer.
Even more traditional mezes get a twist with the added eggplants. One of those is “haydari,” a thick version of "cacık" (or "tzatziki"), where yogurt is mixed with dill and garlic. Add to this thick dairy mixture the wonderous mashed eggplants, and you've got yourself a divine dip for anything you like.
My personal favorites, however, are the ones made directly on the spot next to the crackling barbecue. Salads are the easiest to whip up. The first salad is made out of the cut-up eggplants accompanied by some chopped onions and fresh parsley that make a great side dish. If you have some meaty red peppers, those are a great addition as well – if not, just sprinkle some salt and enjoy plain. The second salad can similarly be made on the spot by adding yogurt to the chopped eggplants and some crushed garlic. Again, with enough salt, you've created the perfect pairing for your barbecue.
Of course, these salads are just as enjoyable to eat at home – don’t mind me reminiscing about the good old days enjoying the sunset next to the barbecue on Istanbul’s seaside. Bon appetit!
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