Take a look around Southern California's gardens, farmers' markets, and Asian grocery stores and you'll see that eggplants come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. This recipe features the Filipino "finger" eggplant, a slender little eggplant harvested around 3 to 6 inches long. These tender fruits grill up in a couple minutes and make a great side dish served with a spicy, Southeast Asian-inspired lemon basil pesto.
If you don't have access to these particular eggplants, feel free to try another variety from China, Japan, Korea, or elsewhere. Larger eggplants may be cut into wedges for easy grilling.
Grilled Eggplant with Spicy Lemon Basil Pesto
1 1/2 cups (packed) fresh lemon basil leaves (or Thai basil)
1/2 cup (packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts
2 teaspoons palm sugar (or brown or granulated sugar)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce (can substitute fish sauce)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 pound finger or Asian eggplants
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped dry roasted peanuts
Combine the basil, parsley, garlic, peanuts, sugar, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, rice vinegar, water, and soy sauce in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste and blend in a little more water if a thinner consistency is desired. Transfer the pesto to a small bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use (up to 1 day).
Heat the grapeseed oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside to drain (the shallots will crisp up as they cool). Reserve the leftover shallot oil for grilling the eggplants. (Fried shallots are best fresh, but they can be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. Shallot oil can be stored in the refrigerator up to 1 week.)
Prepare an outdoor grill or a grill pan over moderate heat.
If using finger eggplants, halve them lengthwise. If using larger eggplants, cut them into 1-inch wedges. Brush the eggplants on all sides with the shallot oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplants, turning once or twice, until slightly charred and tender when pierced with a knife. Transfer to a platter.
Spoon some of the pesto over the eggplants and garnish with fried shallots and chopped peanuts. Serve with extra pesto in a bowl on the side. May be served warm or at room temperature.