Spring has finally sprung, thank goodness. That means looking forward to warm weather and making the necessary adjustments–an updated wardrobe, a sunnier attitude, and seasonal foods. If the thought of summer approaching has you feeling giddy, get a jumpstart on the season with this delicious salad.
"At its best, fried eggplant has a golden outside and creamy inside, with a chew that relaxes to silkiness," says Emily Connor of Food52, the creator of this recipe. "At its worst, it’s an oil-thirsty sponge that drinks and drinks while remaining tough and dry. For this salad—where the eggplant needs to justify its existence among the summer’s ripest, sweetest fruit—we choose door number one, and a technique for getting fried eggplant right that doesn’t involve a long wait time or a deep-fryer."
Keep reading for the recipe, and for more like it, pick up Food52 Mighty Salads ($15; amazon.com).
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 Asian eggplant, cut into ¾-inch cubes
Wondra flour, for dusting
2 Persian cucumbers, cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large, ripe peach, pitted and thinly sliced
1 (8-ounce) fresh mozzarella ball, cut into ½-inch slices
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, coarsely chopped or torn
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon rind
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon piment d’Espelette or Aleppo pepper
How to Make It
1. In a 12-inch (30cm) skillet, warm the vegetable oil over medium-high heat to 350°F. Dust the eggplant cubes with Wondra. Working in batches if needed, arrange the eggplant in a single layer and cook, turning a few times, until golden brown and tender, about 3 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the oil at 350°F. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to a paper towel–lined plate to drain. Season with salt and let cool.
2. To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients. Taste and add salt and more lemon juice if needed.
3. In a large bowl, toss together the cucumbers, tomatoes, and peach. Drizzle in half of the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Season with salt. Let sit for a few minutes.
4. Arrange the salad on a large serving platter, then scatter the mozzarella, basil, and eggplant on top. Drizzle with a little more of the vinaigrette so the eggplant is lightly coated. Season with black pepper, and serve immediately.
Preserve Your Own Lemons:
Whereas fresh lemon tickles your nose, preserved lemon uppercuts, delivering a sweet-salty hit to any dish it graces (in many ways, like capers). To make your own, scrub lemons with a vegetable brush really well. Quarter a lemon, keeping the bottom half or so uncut so it resembles a flower. Fill the center with a big pinch of kosher salt. Plop the lemon into a mason jar, cover it with another sprinkle of salt, and repeat until your jar is really full. Pack the lemons in so they start to lose some of their liquid; squeeze in juice if they’re not already covered. Seal the jar and let the lemons hang out on your counter for two or three weeks. They’re ready when the skins look pliable, like you want to eat them! Once the jar is opened, the preserved lemons will keep in the fridge for up to a year—their flavor will diminish as time goes on.