In the U.S. we usually grill eggplants in slices, but for certain dishes, using the fire of the grill to roast a whole, unpeeled eggplant is a great way to cook this vegetable—especially on a hot day when you don't want to turn on the oven.
This cooking method is as simple as setting an eggplant (or two or three) on a grill. There is no need to oil the eggplant, but do make sure the cooking grate is scrubbed clean before you set the eggplant on it to prevent any chance of it sticking.
Cook It Low and Slow
As simple as this recipe is, the one mistake you can make is having the grill too hot; this will char and burn the peel and flesh before the meat of the eggplant can cook down into a tender, creamy consistency. Unlike roasting in a very hot oven, you want the grill to be set at a medium-low or even a low heat. You should be able to hold your hand about an inch above the cooking grate for at least 4 seconds before having to pull it away. If you have to remove your hand sooner, the grill is probably too hot, so let it cool down before you proceed.
Depending on the size of the eggplant and the heat, it will take anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes until the eggplant collapses, which is the desired end result. Thinner Asian-style eggplants will take less time while big globe eggplants can take up to an hour.
If you don't plan on using the eggplant the same day as you cook it, a good trick is to put it on the grill once you've completed grilling your dinner. Turn the gas grill to low and leave on the grill until you have finished eating; if you use a charcoal grill, place them on the grate, cover the grill, and let the eggplant cook until the coals burn out. (It's even okay if you forget and leave the eggplant overnight—they will still be tender and ready to use the next morning.)
Using Whole Grilled Eggplant
Once the eggplant has collapsed, it is ready to be incorporated into recipes, or simply served cut in half, either drizzled with a fruity olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt, or eaten with a complementary sauce. But first, cool the eggplant so it is easy to handle, then cut in half and let the pieces sit on a rack over a baking sheet for up to 30 minutes to allow any excess water to drain. Now you are ready to use the delicious eggplant halves or incorporate the creamy flesh into dips or other recipes.
The supremely tender flesh inside a whole grilled eggplant is perfect for scooping out of the skin and whirling into classic Baba Gannouj, a delicious eggplant dip that's ideal with pita bread, crisped up pita chips, carrot sticks, and other raw veggies. It is also the key ingredient in melitzanosalata, a Greek eggplant dip with tomato. Or, use it as a cooling element alongside spicy food or grilled meats in this eggplant raita, where the tender eggplant is mixed with a bit of chopped onion, chopped tomato, a little garlic and spice, and a dollop or more of yogurt.