Fire up the grill for this Turkish-style eggplant salad. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg /For The Washington Post)

Fire up the grill for this Turkish-style eggplant salad. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg /For The Washington Post)

Silky and smoky grilled eggplant salad makes a sumptuous side

Cook the eggplant directly on the grill, then turn it into a summery salad.

Cooking eggplant in this primal way — putting the uncut vegetable directly on the grill grates — always excites me.

It’s not just the fun of the cooking itself — watching the flame gradually morph the firm, shiny eggplant, softening and charring it to the point of collapse — it’s the thrill of the smoky flavor that develops as a result. That flavor is a defining element of many Mediterranean eggplant salads, including those typical of Turkish cuisine, which inspired this recipe.

Once the eggplant is cooked (either on the grill or directly on the grates of a gas stove) and cooled, the flesh separates easily from the blackened skin. (Note that the cooking time can vary considerably depending on the density and variety of the vegetable. You know it’s done when it has started bubbling and has collapsed.)

When chopped, the eggplant loses most of its shape leaving a silky, somewhat creamy, smoky base for a summery salad. Here it is seasoned with a little garlic and tossed with chopped tomato, bell pepper, red onion, parsley, lemon and olive oil for a fresh but sumptuous side, or as part of a mezze spread.

Turkish-style grilled eggplant salad

2 medium globe eggplants (about 14 ounces each)

1 clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

1 large ripe tomato, seeded and chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

⅓ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (from 1 medium bunch parsley)

¼ medium red onion, chopped (¼ cup)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more as needed

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

Preheat a grill on medium-high heat; lightly oil the grates. Place the whole eggplants on the grill and cook, turning them several times with tongs, until the skin is charred and blistered all around, the eggplants have collapsed, and their juices begin to bubble. Depending on the density of your eggplants, this can take between 15 and 50 minutes. (If using the stove, place a piece of foil around the burner, place the eggplants directly on the grates of the burner over medium-high heat and cook as instructed above.) Transfer the eggplants to a colander set over a bowl to drain for about 15 minutes, until they are cool enough to handle.

While the eggplant cools, place the minced garlic in a small mound on a cutting board and sprinkle it with the salt. Use the flat edge of a knife to work the garlic and salt together to form a paste.

Discard the eggplant stems and use your fingers (or a paring knife) to peel off and discard the skin. (It’s OK if some bits of charred skin remain.) Coarsely chop the eggplant (it will be soft; the pieces won’t be clearly defined) and place it into a medium mixing bowl. Add the tomato, peppers, parsley, onion, lemon juice, oil, pepper and the garlic paste, stirring gently to incorporate. Taste, add more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice, as needed.

Serve right away.

Makes 4 to 6 servings (about 3 cups). Nutrition per serving (based on 6): 70 calories, 2 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, 100 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 6 grams sugar.

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