I’m on the Kitchy Kitchen Facebook page every day, and when the topic of what to do with eggplants at the farmers’ market came up, the suggestions came pouring in. A grilled Vietnamese salad was tossed in the ring, and I immediately gravitated towards it. I love Vietnamese food, but had never had this salad. All of the versions I read about included eggplant with leeks and cilantro, but I love the flavor fresh mint brings to a rich and smokey salad like this one, so I added some mint as well. When it came to the vinaigrette, a balance of salty, sweet, and spicy seemed like the way to go, so I mixed classic vietnamese ingredients like fish sauce and sriracha with brown sugar, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar for a little more body and flavor. The results are a fabulously unique salad that will definitely stand out at the barbecue.
3 1/2 pounds of Japanese or Chinese eggplants
4 small leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoons roasted chile paste or sriracha
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
Trim the stem end off of each eggplant, peel and slice lengthwise into 1-inch slices. Sprinkle with salt and set aside to drain, 1 hour. After an hour, lightly pat slices dry with a paper towel.
While the eggplant slices are draining, heat your grill to medium high (charcoal adds a nice flavor, but gas is fine too. You can also roast the vegetables instead if you’d rather not grill).
When the coals are ready, drizzle the leeks with 2 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the leeks on the grate and cook, flipping once, for about 5-10 minutes, until covered in grill marks. Transfer to a plate and cover with plastic wrap so they’ll continue steaming.
Drizzle the eggplant slices on both sides with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then sprinkle on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill the slices, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until soft, brown, and covered in grill marks.
Remove the eggplant slices from the grill. When cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and transfer to a serving bowl. Cut the leeks crosswise into 1/2 inch slices and add to the eggplant. Add the herbs and toss to combine
In a small bowl, mix together the vinaigrette ingredients. Pour over the eggplant-leek mixture and toss to coat evenly. Season to taste and serve.