Flame roasting is a surprising, but useful, way to cook many vegetables — especially chiles and eggplant (but also tomato, onion, garlic or zucchini). It leaves them tender, and slightly smoky. You can do it any time you are barbecuing, on charcoal or gas; or at home on a gas stove. It’s a dramatic process, and once you get over the surprise of burning the outside of your food black, in direct fire, you can enjoy upsetting your guests.
The basic process is to throw the vegetables onto flaming coals, or direct flame, and leave them there until the skin is completely black, blistering, and peeling all over. Turn them occasionally (you’ll probably want to use tongs), to ensure every bit of the skin has throughly charred. At this point, the flesh will not be damaged, and is in fact perfect. The process seems alarming the first time you do it. But after that, you’ll realise, it’s pretty fool-proof and delicious. After you get used to it, you will probably enjoy the gasps of horror from your guests, when you bung a red bell-pepper directly into a blazing heap of charcoal.
As you pull veggies off the flame, put them into a sealed container. A big ziploc bag works, or a bowl covered by a plate. I get a bit skeeved out when heating plastic together with food, so we normally choose the second option. The steam finishes cooking the vegetables, and makes the skin softer and easy to remove. It also helps the veggies cool down a bit so you can peel them without burning your fingers. Much.
Once the veggies have steamed for a few minutes (or even half an hour) start pulling them out of the container and wipe off most (but not all) of the charred skin. This is much easier under to do under a very lightly running tap. The carbonised skin will slip right off, and wash away and the extra moisture won’t matter. You don’t need the water, as here, if you want a slightly smokier taste and delicious flecks of char. As you slip the skin off, discard stems — and for chiles and bell-peppers you can remove the seeds. The veggies are now ready to use!
– Eggplants will lose a lot of water, and should be completely soft all the way through.
– Chiles and bell-peppers will stay firm, and the skin comes almost completely off.
– Zucchini won’t cook all the way through, and you probably shouldn’t bother trying to get all the skin off.
– For larger eggplants especially, you might want to simply scoop the flesh out with a spoon, instead of going through the process of skinning.
– If you don’t have access to a flame, or hot coals, you can approximate the process under a broiler in the oven. This works pretty well for bell-peppers especially, although the taste is a little different.