Serious Eats: Recipes

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.

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