It took me a while to love eggplant. As a child, my palate couldn’t appreciate my mum’s begun bhaja, a simple Bengali preparation of fried aubergines with turmeric and salt. “They’re too slimy!” I’d wail as she rolled her eyes and served them to the less ungrateful members of the family. Years later, I rediscovered them through the myriad ways they appear in Middle Eastern food: stuffed and grilled and turned into delicious dips. And, in cooking them myself, I learned to love them in Indian cuisine, too – even the dreaded begun bhaja of my youth.
Grilled aubergine salad with roast grapes, feta, croutons and balsamic
I’ve tried to hint at the delicious smokiness of baba ganoush with this dish. Although the eggplant is cooked in a pan rather than over a flame, the slices take on a smokiness, as does the bread. You need a hot, cast-iron pan to achieve this, though – a skillet or griddle would be ideal.
Prep 5 min
cooking 30 mins
250g seedless red grapes
1 eggplant (about 300g)
2 tsp ground cumin
100g stale sourdough (or other bread), thickly sliced and cut into 2cm dice
300g curly leaf lettuceroughly chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint leaveschopped
50g feta or soft goat’s cheese
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Put the grapes on a small oven tray, scatter over a little salt and roast for 20-25 minutes, turning the tray once halfway, to ensure they cook evenly. The grapes are ready when their skins have wrinkled and they’ve lost some of their juice.
Meanwhile, cut the eggplant into 1.5cm-thick rounds. Brush generously with olive oil (you’ll need one or two tablespoons), followed by a sprinkling of salt and cumin. Working in two batches, fry the eggplant slices in an oiled griddle pan or iron skillet over a low-medium heat for four to five minutes on each side, until well browned.
Set aside the eggplant, scrape any burnt bits out of the pan, then return it to a high heat. Pour in a tablespoon of oil and add the chunks of stale bread and a generous pinch of salt. Keep the bread moving around the pan for about four minutes, until well toasted all over, then remove from the pan and turn off the heat. Let the pan cool for a couple of minutes, then add another tablespoon of olive oil, followed by the chopped lettuce. Stir for a minute, just to warm the leaves through and coat them in the oil, but do not let them get hot enough to wilt.
Divide the lettuce between two plates, tear the eggplant slices into chunks and scatter these over the top with the mint, grapes, bread and cheese. Drizzle over a generous glug of balsamic vinegar and serve at once.