When I was a kid, I thought I hated eggplant. It was weird, slimy, seedy and acidic, but then one day my mom gave me some surprising news:
“You know that baba ghanoush you’ve been eating at your grandmother’s house is actually eggplant, right?”
Turned out, I had liked eggplant all along even though I hadn’t realized it. After that, I became a bit of an eggplant convert because I figured if it was so delicious in my favorite middle eastern dip, it might be just as good in other things too. Now, as an adult I like eggplant prepared a lot of ways, namely parmesan, but I still prefer it best charred and smoky, spicy and creamy as baba ghanoush.
There are as many variations in spelling as there are recipes for baba ghanoush, but luckily it’s much easier to make than it is to spell. My favorite version was taught to me by my grandmother and adapted over time to suit my tastes.
Many versions of baba ghanoush include tahini (sesame paste) or plain yogurt but my family’s version doesn’t. Others call for mixing roasted eggplant with hummus, which is good, but not exactly authentic. Here’s how I do it:
2 Large eggplant or 4 smaller (such as the round Sicilian or thin Japanese varieties)
1/4 cup good, extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for grilling and drizzling
1/2 of a small white onion finely grated
2 fresh cloves of garlic finely grated (a zester works well for this)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 heaping Tablespoon of vegan mayonaise (Note: another version calls for the addition of plain yogurt instead, but my family uses mayo to keep the recipe non-dairy. If you eat dairy, you can try using the yogurt instead if you prefer the taste).
1/4 cup of tahini (optional) Like I said, I don’t usually add it, but you can if you prefer a richer version.
1/4 cup of flat leaf parsley finely chopped, plus an extra pinch for garnish
Dash of ground cumin
Dash of smoked sweet paprika
Hot sauce to taste (such as Sriracha)
Sea Salt and fresh, black pepper to taste
Rub the eggplant with an even coating of olive oil and place on a heated grill. There are several ways to do this, but after much trial and error, I’ve found that a grill works best by far. If you don’t have grill access, you can use a broiler. I’ve also seen eggplants charred using the open flame of a gas grill, but please, if you do this, use caution.
Let the eggplant grill for a long time. Much longer than you think. Turn occasionally to char all sides of the eggplant. When they are finished they will look burnt, but that’s where the delicious smoky flavor comes from, just like with roasted peppers. You want lots of crispy, blackened skin.
Cool your eggplants until they are safe to handle without burning your hands.
Split the eggplant down the middle and scrape out all of the roasted flesh. Discard the skin and don’t freak out if some skin gets in with the flesh. It’s fine. It tastes good. Put the flesh in a fine mesh sieve set over a mixing bowl. Salt the eggplant flesh and let it sit in the sieve to drain for a few hours. Sometimes I get lazy and skip this, but it does make a difference in the texture of the final product.
Mash drained eggplant in a glass or ceramic bowl with a fork. Some prefer to make baba ghanoush in a food processor, which is fine, but I like it chunkier. Add the remaining ingredients, continue to mash with the fork until evenly incorporated and taste for seasonings. Adjust the seasonings to your liking.
To serve, pile the baba ghanoush on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika and the extra chopped parsley. Serve with warmed pita bread, chips, crackers, veggies or whatever you like. It also makes a succulent sandwich spread. My favorite way to eat it is with cucumber slices.
Fresh baba ghanoush will last about three days covered in the refrigerator.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives