One of our favorite couples to go out with has a big problem – the Mrs. is a vegetarian. I know what you’re thinking – they must be VERY cool for us to hang out with them in spite of such a glaring personality flaw. ;-)
I kid, of course. We wanted to have this dynamic duo over, so I took on not one but TWO culinary challenges. First, I would make sure the meal was both vegetarian AND delicious. And second, since the weather was warming up nicely, I would make sure that every course – including dessert – had some sort of grilled component.
This was the appetizer I served, and it was very light and refreshing. For those of you who are not fennel fans, have no fear – caramelizing it with the onions mellows it out significantly. Plus, there is so much good stuff going on in this salad, you won’t taste any licorice-esque flavors at all.
Prepare grill to medium heat.
Cut eggplant crosswise into 8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices. Lightly coat both sides of eggplant slices with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Place on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 7 minutes on each side or until browned. Set eggplant slices aside.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fennel and onion; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned.
Combine remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, arugula, vinegar, and oil in a medium bowl; toss gently to coat. Divide arugula mixture evenly among 8 appetizer plates; top each serving with 1 eggplant slice. Arrange about 1/3 cup fennel mixture on each eggplant slice; top with 2 tablespoons tomatoes and 1 tablespoon cheese. Sprinkle the chopped basil and thyme evenly over cheese.