Tastes of the Med: Smoked Eggplant + Sweet Pepper Dip with Greek Feta

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The exciting thing about cooking is the process of discovery. And not just new foods but old recipes, ones that you make by instinct. And then one day, you come across something unexpected that makes that tried and tested recipe even better.
We’ve been making a variation of this recipe for years, when Ioanna first introduced me to Cypriot cuisine. One of our favorite meals was to make a trio of dips: Melanzanosalata (eggplant + feta), Talatouri (yogurt + grated cucumber + dried mint) and Tahini. This was served with toasted pita, washed down with a little red wine. Eating an occasional meal like this was like enjoying a picnic indoors and it was this casual elegance of dining then that has influenced the way we now eat, serve and enjoy food with our family and friends.
This recipe began as a fusion of Lebanese Babaghanoush and Greek Melanazanosalata. Whereas the Lebanese dip is creamy and the Greek variety a bit heavy, we’ve tweaked the recipe over time to develop a dip that is chunky and creamy and loaded with flavor. Playing around with how the eggplant is cooked is how this evolution took place. While the eggplant is traditionally baked whole, this tends to be too wet which makes the finished dip a bit runny. You end up having to add more feta, adding in unnecessary calories. We started grilling it in slices, but even this had its drawbacks as the eggplant tends to dry out and loses all its’ creaminess.
Just a few weeks ago, we thought we perfected it. With Cerines’ Smoked Eggplant Salad, we grilled the eggplant whole on the gas grill, charring the skin. This infuses the eggplant with a delicious, caramelized flavor. That was until we started testing our new wood charcoal grill. We transferred this grilling process over to the myGrill Chef SMART grill, cooking whole eggplant directly over the wood charcoal. We’ve been experimenting with adding sweet red pepper, inspired once by what was growing in our garden. The addition of the pepper pairs evenly with spicy eggplant. The eggplant, along with the pepper, are never at risk of charring, like on the gas grill. Instead, they turn a deeper color and the skin dehydrates, absorbing the aromatic smoke during cooking. We’ve simplified the recipe even further, skipping the step of using a food processor. All that needs to be done is to combine the ingredients in a bowl by the grill and once the vegetables are done, the skins are removed and chopped at the grill then lightly mixed in along with the other ingredients. The smoky flavor that is infused into the eggplant and pepper means you use less feta, resulting in lower calories and a lighter taste, another benefit to grilling with wood charcoal. Perfect as is along with grilled meats. Alternately, you can make extra and serve with grilled pita as an appetizer or serve with a green salad for a light, satisfying meal.

Smoked Eggplant + Pepper Dip with Greek Feta

serves 10- 12 as an appetizer, 4-6 for lunch with a green salad

Clean:
6-7 medium eggplants
1 red sweet pepper

Remove excess stem, being careful not to pierce the skin. Prepare your myGrill™ Chef SMART™ grill. Spread the heated wood charcoal in a thin layer over the heating tiles and fit the stainless steel racks to the grill. Slide the racks over the prepared wood coals. Place the whole eggplant and pepper on the stainless steel grates. Turn them every 10 minutes or so, until they develop a deep color, about 45 minutes.

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The eggplants and sweet pepper after 10 minutes, cooking along with the halloumi

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the other ingredients. In a small bowl, combine:
1 medium red onion, finely diced
4 T. parsley, finely chopped
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
4 T best-quality mayonnaise
125 gr./3 oz feta cheese
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
sea salt + freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Allow the vegetables to cool completely. Remove top of eggplants and split them in half. With a teaspoon, remove eggplant from its blackened skin by gently running the spoon down the length of the eggplant, loosening the flesh and seeds from the skin. Once you have processed all the eggplants, gather the flesh of the eggplants and roughly chop. Add the eggplant to the mixture.

Place the pepper under cold running water to remove the blackened skin. Once the exterior is free of the skin, slice lengthwise and remove the seeds and center stem. Slice lengthwise into strips and evenly dice into small pieces. Add half of the sweet pepper to the mixture and combine, being careful not to over mix. Turn the dip out onto a serving dish or platter.

Garnish the dip with:
reserved sweet peppers
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered 2 T. feta, crumbled
chopped parsley
drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Tips for success:
•Be sure the eggplant is medium and roughly even size to ensure even cooking. •As with any recipe using fresh ingredients, be sure to use the freshest and best-quality ingredients as this will make all the difference in the final product: olive-oil, mayonnaise and real Greek feta are the keys to making this recipe excellent.

Luxury touch:
Throw a dozen or so cherry tomatoes right in the grilling basket. Cook until they have developed some brown on the skin, remove and allow to cool. Chop and add into the mixture.

Tips for using the myGrill Chef SMART™ Grill:
•As the grates are used, there is no need to use the computer-assisted feature. Make sure to use best-quality charcoal and spread the heated coals out in a thin layer over the heating tiles. Resist adding more coals, as the heating tiles assist with maintaining the heat of the coals. Using too much wood charcoal will result in an overcooked exterior and an underdone interior.