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Tastes of the Mediterranean

Mediterranean Flavors: Baba Ghanoush

Mediterranean Flavors: Baba Ghanoush

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Baba ghanoush is a late summer dream, a brilliant balance of flavor and texture. It's light but creamy, kissed by smoke, lemon, and garlic. Tahini gives it body and olive oil lends a fruity finish.

And once you get the technique down—which is really just roasting an eggplant to death—you can vary it however you like. This is my version, but different tastes prefer different balances. Taste frequently and make this your own. I've suggested some add-ins to heighten specific dimensions of baba ghanoush's complex flavor profile.

One thing that shouldn't change is the quality of the eggplant. Use whichever you like, though the common big purple alien pods work quite well. Though available year-round, eggplants are best in late summer and plentiful at farmers' markets. The best eggplants are heavy for their size with taut skin and verdant stems. You should be able to push into the flesh with your thumb, but it should spring back when released. Younger (smaller) eggplants have fewer to no seeds but also a little less flavor. Enormous ones are dry with more pronounced, bitter seeds. A medium-to-large eggplant is what I go with.

You may have been told to check the eggplant's "sex." Well, eggplants are berries. They don't have sexes. But eggplants with round, concave dimpled bottoms have fewer seeds and meatier flesh than those with little brown oval-shaped scars on the end.

This recipe is pretty heavy on the garlic, so you may want to cut down to two cloves if you don't like that raw bite. The flavor and consistency change over time—the lemon's acidity tones down and the dip firms up, requiring more olive oil to thin out. Change proportions accordingly if you're making it in advance. A half hour before serving, take it out of the refrigerator to soften and make any last-minute adjustments.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is a proud native of Queens, New York. He'll do just about anything for a good cup of tea and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.

Mediterranean Flavors: Baba Ghanoush

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About This Recipe

This recipe appears in: Weekend Cook and Tell: Grilling Minus the Meat

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs. of eggplant, either one large or two small
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of tahini
  • Juice of one or two lemons (see head note)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (see head note)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste

Procedures

  1. 1

    Poke about six holes in your eggplant to let out steam. Any more than that and juices will start running out everywhere.

  2. 2

    On a grill or a gas burner (skip to the next step if you have neither), let the eggplant sit directly on a high flame till each side is blackened and charred, about 10 minutes total. When the exterior feels tender and the eggplant looks like it's starting to collapse in on itself, take it off the heat.

  3. 3

    Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and remove the eggplant's stem. Put the sheet under your broiler, close to the heat source, and broil till the eggplant is very soft, another 20 minutes or so. Rotate it every five minutes to ensure even cooking. About halfway through, remove it from the broiler and peel away some of the skin with tongs or a fork. It should come off easily. Cut the eggplant into a few large pieces to expose the interior to direct heat. Return it to the broiler and let it roast for about another 10 minutes. You could do this all on the stove or grill, but this step has two advantages. First, it's neater—you won't get eggplant juices all over your cooktop. Second, direct exposure of the flesh to the heat heightens the dip's smokey flavor.

  4. 4

    When the eggplant's given all it can give, let it cool down for a few minutes, then peel away any remaining skin. Purée in a food processor with the garlic, tahini, and half the lemon juice.

  5. 5

    While pulsing the food processor, add salt and olive oil incrementally. Taste for additional salt or lemon juice. The dip will thicken slightly as it cools and even more in the refrigerator, so add some compensatory olive oil if it's a little thick or dry. Transfer to a bowl or container. Baba Ghanoush is best served a little warm or at room temperature.

  6. 6

    Add-ins

  7. 7

    For more smokiness, add a small pinch of pimentón or pasilla chile.

  8. 8

    For more sweetness and body, try a drizzle of honey or pomegranate molasses, or some roasted garlic.

  9. 9

    For some textural variation, stir in some toasted pine nuts or pistachios. Or some finely chopped tomatoes, olives, or red onions.

  10. 10

    For an herbal or floral dimension, parsley or cilantro make an excellent garnish. A few drops of rose water would be an unexpected aromatic. Or try a tiny bit of lime or orange zest (perhaps by use of a flavored oil).

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