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Grilled Eggplant and Feta Salad with Lemon and Smashed Olive Vinaigrette

Image of Eggplant and Feta Salad with Lemon and smashed olives

While most salads relegate olives to lowly garnish status, this recipe turns that notion upside down and makes olives the star of the plate—as the base of the dressing!

The grilled eggplant is addictive—creamy on the inside, with the texture of a smooth flan or custard, while its lightly charred, golden-brown, crispy crust is the perfect textural complement to the icy cold and crisp iceberg and buttery, soft Little Gem salad greens. Do not skip the Italian parsley—its slightly bitter hit is the culinary flavor foil to the salty feta and slightly sweet, nutty toasted pine nuts. This salad pairs well with grilled fish and roasted lamb. For a quick brunch or dinner, add shredded, store-bought rotisserie chicken, smoked trout or hardboiled eggs, and serve as a main.

I prefer buttery-flavored California olive oil and Italian Cerignola or Castelvetrano olives in this dish, but try Kalamata olives if you’re craving a bolder, saltier flavor profile. The secret to creating the flan-like texture in the grilled eggplant is three-fold: using ¾-inch thick disks, cooking three minutes per side, and immediately covering the eggplant with a lid after it hits the hot skillet, which steams the flesh while developing a crispy crust. Stack the grilled eggplant in a tower after cooking, which not only keeps it warm but cleverly uses its residual heat to soften the eggplant’s texture further.

Grilled Eggplant and Feta Salad with Lemon and Smashed Olive Vinaigrette
Serves: 2 as a main; 4 as a side

Image of Fried Eggplant dish ingredients

For Eggplant
1 eggplant, cut crosswise in ¾-inch disks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1-2 tablespoons for cooking
½ teaspoon kosher flake salt

Preheat a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Brush or spray extra virgin olive oil on both sides of eggplant, then dust with kosher flake salt.

Image of pan on stove

Add enough olive oil to lightly film the bottom of the skillet, about 1 to 2 tablespoons, and heat till hot but not smoking. Add eggplant and cover immediately. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the eggplant is lightly charred on the edges and golden brown. Turn over eggplant, add a bit of oil if needed and cover.

Image of Fried Eggplant

Cook for another 3-4 minutes till edges are slightly charred and center soft and golden brown. Remove eggplant from skillet and stack in two towers to keep warm while preparing vinaigrette.

Lemon and Smashed Olive Vinaigrette
1/3 cup green olives, pitted, rinsed, and rough chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon kosher flake salt
1 large clove garlic, micro-planed to a paste
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 large lemon—juice and zest
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano


Motor and Pestle

Place olives in a mortar and large bowl, smash with pestle or fork until roughly chopped, and then place in a medium mason jar or medium bowl. Add mustard, garlic, lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper to mortar, and mix with pestle or tongs of a fork to combine. Slowly drizzle in olive, oregano and mix with the pestle or fork to combine. Add oil & lemon mixture to smashed olives and cover jar with lid.

Image of Dressing for Eggplant

Shake jar in an up and down motion till an emulsion is achieved—about 1 minute. Set aside while preparing the salad.

Salad Ingredients
4 small Little Gem heads, washed, cored and stem end removed
½ head of iceberg lettuce
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
½ cup crumbled French or Bulgarian feta cheese
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

Salad Preparation
Stack Little Gem leaves and cut into 1/3-inch slices and place in a large salad bowl. Slice iceberg lettuce into ¼-inch slices and add to the salad bowl. Chop leaves and tender stems of flat-leaf parsley and add to salad bowl; then toss to combine. Shake vinaigrette, reserving 2 tablespoons for eggplants, and drizzle over salad, then toss to combine.

To Serve
Place 3-4 disks of grilled eggplant on one side of the serving plate and mound dressed salad on the opposite side—top greens with feta and pine nuts. Drizzle one tablespoon, per serving, of Lemon and Smashed Olive Vinaigrette over eggplants and serve immediately.

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