Salting eggplant before grilling is not strictly necessary, but it can help draw out some of the eggplant’s natural bitterness and excess moisture. Lightly salting sliced eggplant for 20-30 minutes before grilling can improve the texture and flavor. However, if you prefer the taste of unsalty grilled eggplant, you can certainly skip the salting step. The key is to make sure to grill the eggplant over high heat until browned and tender to bring out the best flavor either way.
Why Salt Eggplant for Grilling?
Eggplant contains compounds that can make it taste bitter, especially the seeds and skin. Salting eggplant draws out some of these compounds through a process called osmosis. Here’s how it works:
- Salt is sprinkled generously on sliced eggplant and allowed to sit for 20-30 minutes.
- The salt draws moisture out of the eggplant through osmosis.
- Bitter compounds dissolved in the moisture are pulled out along with it.
- After time has passed, excess moisture is drained or pressed out of the eggplant.
This helps reduce excess bitterness and also firms up the texture of the eggplant, allowing it to grill up better. The high heat of grilling caramelizes natural sugars in the eggplant, balancing out any remaining bitterness with sweet, smoky notes.
Salting isn’t strictly necessary for eggplant that will be peeled and has less bitterness. However, for thicker slices with skin left on, it can improve flavor and texture.
Does Salting Eggplant Remove Nutrients?
A minor amount of the water-soluble vitamins and minerals will be lost when salting eggplant. However, the key antioxidants and phytonutrients in eggplant remain intact.
According to studies, grilling significantly increases the antioxidant content in eggplant pulp and skin compared to boiling, frying or microwaving. So any nutrients lost to salting are more than made up for through grilling.
How to Salt Eggplant for Grilling
Here is a simple process for prepping eggplant with salt for optimal grilling:
- Wash the eggplant and slice into 1/2 to 1 inch rounds or pieces. Leave the skin on for added flavor and texture.
- Place eggplant slices in a colander or on paper towels. Liberally sprinkle both sides with coarse kosher salt or sea salt.
- Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes to draw out moisture. Occasionally flip the slices over to redistribute salt.
- Rinse eggplant under cool water or wipe with paper towels to remove excess salt and moisture.
- Pat eggplant dry thoroughly with paper towels or a clean dish towel.
- Brush both sides with olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Grill eggplant over medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes per side until browned and tender.
The key is using enough salt to efficiently draw out moisture in the time allowed. About 1-2 teaspoons coarse salt per pound of eggplant is sufficient.
Tips for Grilling Salted Eggplant
– Use high heat. Grilling over medium-high to high heat helps provide that great charred flavor.
– Grill skin-side down first. This crisps up the skin nicely to balance the soft interior.
– Brush with oil first. Lightly oiling the eggplant prevents sticking to the grill grate.
– Watch carefully. Eggplant can burn quickly, so keep an eye on it and adjust heat as needed.
– Flip once only. Frequently flipping can cause eggplant to fall apart. Just once is enough.
– Grill to softness. Eggplant should be tender all the way through when done.
Can You Skip Salting for Grilled Eggplant?
Salting eggplant is optional if you don’t mind a more bitter flavor and softer grilled texture. Grilling alone helps caramelize sugars and improve flavor.
If skipping salting, take these steps:
– Trim ends and peel eggplant first to remove bitter skin.
– Slice eggplant no more than 1/2 inch thick to reduce bitterness.
– Brush slices with oil and grill over high heat 4-5 minutes per side until browned and tender.
The results won’t be quite as firm and mellow flavored. But for a quicker prep, grilling without salting definitely still works.
Best Eggplant Varieties for Grilling
The variety of eggplant makes a difference in bitterness levels and grilling quality. Here are some top options:
|Italian||Tear-drop shaped with fewer seeds. Mild flavor good for grilling.|
|Japanese||Slender and deep purple. Very mild taste.|
|Graffiti||Oblong and purple-striped. Firm flesh resists moisture.|
|Black Beauty||Large classic teardrop shape. Meaty texture.|
|Rosa Bianca||Italian heirloom with light pink skin and mild flavor.|
|Fairytale||Small, round shape. Thin skin doesn’t require peeling.|
Italian, Japanese, and thinner-skinned eggplant types will be the mildest. But any eggplant can be great for grilling with the right prep.
Marinade Ideas for Grilled Eggplant
In addition to salting, marinating eggplant can infuse it with lots of flavor. Try soaking eggplant slices for 30 minutes up to overnight in one of these easy marinades:
- Greek: Olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.
- Moroccan: Olive oil, cumin, paprika, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Teriyaki: Soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, grated ginger.
- Indian: Plain yogurt, garam masala, cumin, turmeric, cayenne.
- Italian: Balsamic vinegar, basil, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
Just drain off excess marinade before grilling. The bold flavors pair perfectly with smoky grilled eggplant.
What to Serve with Grilled Eggplant
Grilled eggplant makes an amazing base for all kinds of delicious toppings and pairings:
- Fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, basil and balsamic glaze
- Hummus, feta cheese, kalamata olives, red onion and lemon juice
- Tzatziki sauce, feta, fresh mint and chopped cucumber
- Spicy Greek yogurt sauce, grilled chicken and dukkah spice blend
- Garlic aioli, prosciutto, shaved Parmesan and fresh arugula
Or serve grilled eggplant in:
- Grilled vegetable sandwiches or wraps
- Eggplant Parmesan
- Middle Eastern moussaka
- Caprese salad
- Baba ganoush
Any way you serve it, well-seasoned grilled eggplant adds amazing flavor and texture.
Salting eggplant before grilling can help reduce bitterness and improve texture, but is not strictly necessary. Grilling alone brings out rich sweetness and caramelization. For the best results, use high heat, watch closely, and grill eggplant until thoroughly tender. Pair grilled eggplant with cheeses, sauces, herbs, meats and more for a hearty, flavorful addition to meals.