Grilled Eggplant Salad in Coconut Milk

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During our celebration of Guam’s Liberation Day last week, our fiesta plate with Red Rice and Guam BBQ Chicken was served with this grilled salad of eggplant in a spicy lemon and coconut marinade, called Finadene Birenghenas in Guam’s native language, Chamorro (from Leblon Finatinas para Guam [Guam Cookbook]). The best eggplant for this salad are the long thin Oriental eggplant seen here. These can be found in abundance in the Islands most of the year. Off-island, Asian markets will usually carry them.

When we lived overseas, I often longed for these thin-skinned and quick cooking eggplants, which do not require skinning or salting as their round Continental cousins might. Our favorite way to prepare them is to grill them. Whenever we grill, T will also throw on 5-6 of these beauties even when they will not be part of that day’s meal. Once cooled, the eggplants are peeled and ready in the fridge for a variety of future salads and meals. When peeling, avoid the temptation to rinse the eggplants under running water — rinsing will wash out much of the prized smoke flavor in the vegetable. This is true for all grilled or char-broiled vegetables you peel before using, such as bell peppers or tomatoes.

I think of this dish as a salad, but it’s not the kind of salad you would want to eat alone. Usually this is served as part of rice meal with barbecued or roasted meats and seafood, although I love it with just a big scoop of red rice and finadene sauce, too. The smoky flavor of the grilled eggplant is first tamed with the sweet coconut milk, then lifted with the lemon juice and peppers. It is surprisingly light-tasting and refreshing, despite its seemingly heavy ingredients. If you already like the smoky, meaty flavor of eggplants in
baba ghanoush, you might enjoy the variation on that flavor which this salad will bring to your table.

This recipe is going out to the award-winning Sig at
Live to Eat, who is hosting the “Grill It!” event for the Monthly Mingle begun by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey? Grill fever can’t help but sweep the northern Hemisphere while the short weeks of summer are in full swing, and I hope this delicious salad will too!

Adapted from
Leblon Finatinas para Guam [Guam Cookbook]
For 3-4 servings

6-7 large thin eggplants (about 1.5 lbs/680g)
oil to coat eggplant

Pre-heat grill.

With a sharp knife, pierce skin of each eggplant in 4-5 places to prevent the eggplants from bursting while on the grill. Lightly coat each eggplant with olive oil.

Place eggplants over high heat to char, and cook until eggplant is completely soft, with no spongy areas (spongy = still not cooked through). Time will depend on the size of the vegetables. Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle. Holding the stem end, remove peel by pulling downwards — peel should come away easily, leaving the vegetable flesh intact. Once eggplants are peeled, they can be refrigerated 3-4 days for later use.

To finish salad:
1/2 to 1 onion, sliced thinly
Juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1-3 donne peppers, aka Thai bird chilies (optional)
1/2 cup coconut milk
scallions for garnish

Combine onions, lemon, salt, peppers, and coconut milk. Allow to sit for 30 minutes while you prepare eggplants.

Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into bite-size chunks. Taste coconut milk mixture and correct for salt, if necessary — it sould be lemony and slightly sweet. Add eggplants and gently combine to distribute flavors. Garnish with green onion rings.

Serve with roasted or grilled meats and seafood, and rice. (Serve with
Red Rice and Guam BBQ Chicken for a real Guam fiesta experience.)

Other Island Fresh produce on this site: Melons, Watercress, Mustard Cabbage, Warabi, Daikon, Beef, Corn, and Choi Sum