I love mixing mildly hot peppers into a mix to provide an occasional surprise in the mouth. My apartment does not have an outdoor grill so I do my grilling in a grill pan. Works just fine, but this goes much more quickly on a grill with generous cooking surface. I have to do mine in several batches.
Do Ahead I would happily make this two days before serving. Store, well-covered in refrigerator and allow to reach room temperature and re-toss before serving.
2 pounds assorted sweet and mildly hot peppers – 2-3 times sweet than hot
2 pounds assorted small eggplant
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup good olive oil
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1. Combine garlic and olive oil in large bowl. Mix well.
2. For eggplant, remove stem end and discard. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. Down length of each half, cut deep slits into flesh about 1/2-inch apart taking care not to cut all the way through. These slits allow oil to penetrate without drenching eggplant in oil, helps steam escape during grilling and generally facilitates cooking.
3. For the peppers, remove the stem and top and discard. Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove all seeds and trim away membrane. Take care in handling hot peppers not to touch soft membranes like your lips and eyes or you will cause burning. Wash hands well after handling hot peppers.
4. Prepare eggplant for grilling. You can’t just toss eggplant into garlic oil. Eggplant acts as a sponge and that’s not good. One eggplant could absorb most of this oil. Instead, place your fingers into garlic and oil mixture. Generously rub and coat each eggplant. Continue with all eggplant. Eggplant should have modest patina of oil.
5. Prepare peppers for grilling. Unlike eggplant, peppers do not absorb oil. Combine what’s left of garlic oil with peppers and toss well.
6. Preheat grill to moderate.
7. To grill peppers, start peppers skin side down. Cook until scorch marks are formed — three to five minutes. Turn peppers and continue cooking until peppers become very limp. Transfer to bowl and stack. Stacked peppers will continue to cook from their own internal heat and you want this to happen. Allow peppers to cool.
8. To grill eggplant, start flesh side down and cook until well scorched and marked — about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn so skin side is down. Continue cooking. You will see moisture within slits bubble and steam and eggplant will swell as internal moisture turns to steam. Oil will also seep into eggplant through slits. Skin protects eggplant through this process. Continue cooking until eggplant are limp and very pliable. Undercooked eggplant is not a good thing. Set aside to cool.
Here I use my Grill Press to facilitate “marking” by putting downward pressure on eggplant. A Grill Press is a recommended but not essential list of kitchen equipment. You will get my full recommendations in our upcoming book.
Eggplant are well marked and spend a while “on their backs” as they cook fully through. Look for the sizzling in the slits as a sign that heat has deeply penetrated eggplant.
9. Cutting peppers and eggplant. There are two approaches to this – big pieces or more fork-friendly pieces. If you are using small eggplant, these look better as they are without cutting them up. Depending on size of peppers, you may have to cut some into somewhat smaller peppers. This approach assumes your guests have a knife and a stable place to cut the peppers and eggplant on their plate. Neither are easy to cut with a fork as each has a skin. Alternatively, cut peppers into generous, but not too long strips. Cut eggplant into large chunks, but not so large that your guest could not fit it into their mouth.
Eggplant cut into manageable pieces.
10. Toss together eggplant and peppers in bowl. Add lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and toss again. In addition to flavoring the dish, the acid from lemon juice or pepper serves to cut the richness of oil. To serve, spread onto low platter taking care to have a nice mix of peppers running throughout.
Looks pretty good!
Yield A pound of eggplant and a half pound of peppers will serve 6-8 depending on what else is on the menu.