Sure, St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and while I could offer you a few variations on classic Irish dishes like corned beef and colcannon, something has me craving Middle Eastern food instead. So, this week I’ll be posting some of my favorite recipes from Lebanon, Turkey and Israel, all culminating in a dish that will be able to take advantage of each flavorful offering in the group. How about a dip to start?
Like its cousin hummus, baba ganoush is now offered by a myriad of producers and can be found at almost any major grocery store. While most of it is good, I’ve found that nothing quite compares with a batch of the homemade stuff. An essential component of any good mezze platter or vegetarian plate at most restaurants, this eggplant dip is as healthy as it is flavorful. For those who’ve never tried it, imagine a smoky spread that is as at once creamy and light, tangy and sweet and as good with warm pita bread at is with crunchy crudite.
At its best, baba is always a contrast of flavors and textures, but the exact ratio of lemon juice to tahini, the consistency from rough chopped to food processor smooth, the addition of a lot or a little garlic, etc. is in the eye mouth of the beholder. And of course, there is no way quite as effective to ensure that a dish is made to your tastes than to make it yourself. So, while I’ve included a handful of measurements in the recipe, keep in mind that they are merely guidelines that can easily be adjusted to suit your own taste, and that technique is what’s most important in creating a outstanding eggplant dip.
If you have a grill or barbecue sitting in your backyard, this is a great time to take advantage of the smoky flavor that it can add to a dish. If you don’t feel like starting a fire just to grill some eggplants, char the eggplants under your ovens broiler set on high. This step is crucial if you are going to attain the smoky flavor that makes baba ganoush so unique. When your eggplants are cool enough to handle, slice them down the middle and scrape out the flesh with the point of a knife. Lightly chopping/cutting the eggplant while it is draining in a sieve will not only allow you to remove some of the bitter juices from the flesh, but also control its texture. If a rustic presentation is not what you are after, simply puree the eggplant in a food processor until the desired consistency is reached. If you like an especially creamy baba ganosh, add the optional yogurt and whip it into the tahini/lemon mixture before adding the eggplant puree. Even though you are removing a good amount of bitterness by eliminating the juices from the eggplant, I’ve found that adding a pinch or two of salt can really balance out the acidity of the lemon and counteract any residual bitterness left in the flesh. Finally, I like to garnish my baba with a sprinkle of smoked paprika for a nice contrast in color and to reinforce the smoky character of the spread.
- 2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 3 tablespoons tahini
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3/4 cup to 4/5 cup Greek-style yogurt
- Salt, to taste
- Sugar, to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Smoked paprika, for garnish
- Prick the eggplants in a few places with a pointed knife to prevent them from exploding. Cook the eggplant over the flame of a charcoal barbecue or under the broiler until the skin is charred all over and they feel very soft when you press them. Alternatively, you can place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast them in your oven set on its highest heat setting for about 45-55 until soft.
- When cool enough to handle, peel and drop them into a strainer or colander with small holes. Press out as much of the water and juices as possible. Still in the colander, chop the flesh with a pointed knife, then mash it with a fork or wooden spoon, letting the juices escape through the holes. Adding a tiny squeeze of lemon juice help to keep the puree looking pale and appetizing.
- In a bowl, beat the tahini with the lemon juice (the tahini stiffens at first then softens), then beat in the yogurt if you are including it. Add the mashed eggplant, garlic to taste, and a good pinch of salt. Beat vigorously and taste to adjust flavoring.
- Spread the puree onto a flat serving dish or bowl and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of parsley and a pinch of smoked paprika. For best flavor, serve at room temperature.
Makes about 2 cups