Feta-Brined Grilled Eggplant Salad

July 24, 2017

Author Notes: If chicken can be feta brined, why not eggplant?! As I’ve learned from J. Kenji López-Alt and others, brined eggplant browns better (and faster), more readily absorbs flavor, and better retains its texture and shape. So I turned to Melissa Clark’s “Genius” Feta-Brined Chicken and adapted the brine for eggplant. Rather than roasting or frying the eggplant, I headed to the grill to impart some smokiness (and to keep the kitchen cool). The result was really, really good. The feta brine imparts a complex earthiness to the eggplant, and the little bits of feta in the brine promote a gorgeous char on the grill. (To be sure, I tested feta-brined and regular salt water-brined eggplant side by side on the grill, and the flavor of the feta version was definitely the winner.) Here, I’ve built a salad around the grilled eggplant that includes juicy peaches, tomatoes, and more feta, as well as a preserved lemon salsa verde that ties all of the flavors together. So go forth and feta brine your eggplant this summer, make this salad (or let it inspire your own), and never worry about mushy or flavorless eggplant again.EmilyC

Serves: 4

Ingredients

For the feta-brined eggplant and salad

  • 4 ounces feta, divided
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds eggplant (any variety), cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds or slices
  • olive oil
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 large peaches, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup roasted pistachios, shelled
  • Large handful of basil leaves
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Preserved lemon salsa verde, to serve (recipe below)

For the preserved lemon salsa verde

  • 1 1/2 cups mixed herbs (I like mostly basil, with a small handful of Italian parsley and oregano)
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped rind from a small preserved lemon
  • pinch of chile flakes
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • kosher salt, to taste
In This Recipe

Directions

For the feta-brined eggplant and salad

  1. Blend 2 ounces feta, 2 tablespoons kosher salt, and 4 cups water together until smooth using a blender or stick blender. Put the eggplant in a large bowl and cover with the feta brine, using a plate to weight down the eggplant and keep it fully submerged. Brine for about 1 hour at room temperature. Before grilling, strain the eggplant from the brine (discarding the brine) and gently pat dry with paper towels, leaving any feta bits on the eggplant. Toss with enough olive oil to generously coat both sides. (Tip: use the same bowl you used for brining for coating your eggplant in olive oil, and then again when removing the eggplant from the grill. Any leftover feta bits in the bowl can be added to the salad, and you'll save yourself some dirty dishes!)
  2. Heat the grill to medium-high and brush your grates clean, then brush with olive oil. Meanwhile, sprinkle the halved cherry tomatoes with kosher salt and set aside.
  3. Arrange the eggplant in a single, even layer. I like to use a perforated grill tray (brushed with a little oil), but you can grill the eggplant directly over the grates. Grill the eggplant on the first side until nicely charred (lift up a piece or two to check), then flip and continue grilling until tender and nicely charred. (Back down the heat if the eggplant is browning too much before it cooks through.) Remember, char equals flavor so don’t hesitate to get some color on the eggplant!
  4. Arrange the eggplant on a large serving platter. Toss in the tomatoes, peaches, pistachios and basil, and crumble the remaining feta. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, to taste. Drizzle the preserved lemon salsa verde over the salad (serving extra at the table). Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

For the preserved lemon salsa verde

  1. Pulse the capers and garlic together a few times using a food processor, then add the 1/2 cup of olive oil. Pulse briefly, then add the herbs, followed by the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. (It’s important to cover the herbs with the olive oil before processing so they don’t discolor.) Pulse several more times until well mixed, but leave some texture in the herbs. Stir in the preserved lemon rind and season to taste with lemon juice, chile flakes, and kosher salt.

More Great Recipes:
Salad|Greek|Eggplant|Feta|Lemon Juice|Vegetable|Pistachio|Capers|Grill/Barbecue|Make Ahead|Summer|Vegetarian

Reviews (12) Questions (0)

12 Reviews

Megan July 30, 2017
Such a gorgeous and incredibly delicious way to showcase the best of summer. This was simply outstanding! Thank you, EmilyC!
 
Author Comment
EmilyC July 31, 2017
Oh thank you Megan -- I'm so glad you tried and liked the salad! Thanks so much for letting me know!
 
Rhonda35 July 27, 2017
This salad is SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!! Seriously delicious! Thanks for sharing this recipe, EmilyC. :-) I wasn't sure about the eggplant with the peaches, but they compliment each other so well - the sweetness of the peaches is enhanced by the savory char on the eggplant. My husband is not a fan of eggplant, yet he devoured two servings of this salad - and there was other food on the table, so it's not like he HAD to eat it, LOL! So, two small notes: (1) I used a regular globe-shaped eggplant and sliced it in half lengthwise, then into 1/2-inch thick semi-circles crosswise - it worked fine and with no bitterness that the larger eggplant can sometimes have. (2) After the eggplant brined for an hour, I poured the whole bowl into a sieve and let it sit to drain for about 45 minutes. This allowed me to skip patting the eggplant dry and also saved a lot of the bits of feta from the brine. I dumped it all back into the brining bowl and poured over the olive oil, tossing to coat. Placed the eggplant on the grill and kept the bowl with the small puddle of olive oil and all those feta bits. When the eggplant was nicely charred and cooked through, it went back into the bowl. This used less dishes and incorporated the feta bits from the brine back into the salad. It's not a game-changer or anything radical, but I liked that there was less waste and a bit more "bang for your buck." Love this recipe!
 
Author Comment
EmilyC July 28, 2017
Rhonda -- your note has made my entire day -- thank you! I'm SO happy that you liked the salad, and I love that your husband who typically doesn't like eggplant ate it too! : ) Regarding your notes, thanks for letting me know that you used a larger globe eggplant. I've only used small, slender ones, so I'm glad to know that the size/variety doesn't matter much! And I LOVE that tip to use the brining bowl to coat the eggplant in olive oil, and then again for the eggplant as they come off the grill! I'm going to edit my recipe to suggest this (so smart)!! Curious, when you made this, did many feta bits stick to your eggplant as they went on the grill? I brushed most off the first time, but the second time, I left most of them on and they made for delicious charred bites. Wondering what your experience was?
 
Rhonda35 July 28, 2017
Emily - yes, since I didn't pat dry the eggplant, some of the feta bits stuck to the slices as they went on the grill (and the rest stayed in the bowl with the slick of olive oil.) I agree with you - lots of delicious flavor as those little pieces of feta melted and charred onto the eggplant. PS - I just had a little leftover salad for lunch - as you noted in your reply below to cookinginvictoria, any leftovers hold up really well.
 
Author Comment
EmilyC July 28, 2017
Thanks Rhonda--I'll add a note about leaving those feta bits on the eggplant. Thanks for being my first official tester and your helpful feedback! : )
 
Rhonda35 July 26, 2017
Yay! Saw this when you posted it on IG and I've been patiently waiting for you to post the recipe - thank you! Can't wait to give it a try. :-)
 
Author Comment
EmilyC July 26, 2017
I really hope you like it, Rhonda! I just love all of these ingredients together. And I'm glad I've found a way to avoid mushy, flavorless eggplant on the grill!
 
cookinginvictoria July 25, 2017
That is one gorgeous photo of summer's most delicious bounty, Emily! And my favorite ingredient at the moment is preserved lemons. Am putting them on so many dishes this summer. Will try to make this mouth-watering salad soon too!
 
Author Comment
EmilyC July 25, 2017
Thanks Paula! The preserved lemon salsa verde is so good...I've been spooning it on everything I can this summer! Hope you try and like the salad! It's even good on Day 2 because the brined eggplant can hold up to all of the juice from the peaches and tomatoes. Let me know if you try it! : )
 
aargersi July 25, 2017
Making this STAT
 
Author Comment
EmilyC July 25, 2017
Hooray! : ) Let me know how it turns out!!