Why It Works
- Roasting the vegetables at a high temperature develops a smoky flavor.
- Adding the cumin and coriander seeds to the vegetables during roasting helps the spices cook and obviates the need for them to be toasted separately.
- Soaking the cashews in boiling water helps hydrate and soften the nuts.
Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables due to its silky texture and its ability to take on smoky flavors with ease. It’s both my go-to vegetable when I’m cooking a special meal for guests and also a dinnertime staple that I make at least once a week.
Eggplant is a popular vegetable throughout Asia and the Middle East: Not only are they used in main courses like stuffed eggplants and bhaingan bharta (roasted eggplant with tomatoes and onions), they are often used to prepare appetizers and dips like baba ganoush and pakoras. Eggplants are often described as meaty in texture, but I hate describing vegetables in terms of meat so I prefer to think of them as full-bodied. Although they are sometimes described as bitter-tasting, most plant breeders over the years have selected varieties that have little to no detectable bitterness in them. Luckily for us, that means we can spend less time worrying about trying to rid them of bitterness and more time figuring out what flavors we want to infuse them with—because eggplant sucks up flavors with ease.
One flavor that's particularly well-matched with eggplant is smoke, which is developed through high-heat methods like charring, grilling, or roasting. Of those options, roasting is arguably one of the easiest: The high heat helps the sugars caramelize and also helps the amino acids and sugars participate in the Maillard reaction. The result of these two food reactions builds bittersweet flavors and a smoky profile.
I like to add cumin and coriander seeds to the vegetables during roasting, which allows the spices to toast and release their flavors directly into the vegetables while eliminating the extra step of toasting the spices separately. Once the vegetables are lightly charred, they carry a lovely smoky flavor. I then remove them from the oven and let them rest until they’re cool enough to handle.
To add body to this dip, I turn to red lentils and cashews. This recipe uses red lentils but other options like black lentils and split pigeon peas will also work here. Once the lentils are tender and cooked, it's important to drain them right away. If left to sit in the water too long, the lentils run the risk of becoming mushy. As for the cashews, I soak whole roasted and salted cashews in boiling water to soften them, which makes it easier for them to break down during blending.
While this dip can be made in a blender, a food processor offers better control of the final texture with less risk of over-pureeing. The dip should not be perfectly smooth but instead resemble a coarse paste, which can be accomplished by pulsing the processor in short intervals for a few seconds at a time until the paste comes together.
This dip is a party-pleaser that both vegetarians, vegans, and meat eaters will love. It goes well with any kind of warm flatbread, buttered slices of crusty toasted sourdough, and I daresay a wonderful spread inside sandwiches too.
- 19 ounces eggplant (1 to 2 globe eggplants; 540g), halved lengthwise
- 10 1/2 ounces red bell pepper (1 to 2 peppers; 300g), stemmed, cored, and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 shallot (55g)
- 1 jalapeño, stemmed and halved lengthwise
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Fine sea or kosher salt
- 1/2 cup red lentils (3 1/2 ounces; 100g), rinsed and picked over for stones
- 1/2 cup whole roasted and salted cashews (2 1/2 ounces; 70g)
- 3 to 4 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lemon or lime juice
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro leaves and tender stems
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). On a rimmed baking sheet, spread eggplant, bell pepper, shallot, and jalapeño in an even layer. Sprinkle cumin and coriander seeds on top, season lightly with salt, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Using your hands, toss to coat vegetables well, then cook until lightly charred, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely. Once vegetables are cool, remove and discard some (but not all) of the charred skin. Transfer vegetables to a medium bowl.
Meanwhile, combine lentils with 2 cups (480ml) water and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until lentils are completely tender but not falling apart, about 15 minutes. Drain lentils through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the cooking water, and let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, place cashews in a small heatproof bowl, cover by at least 2 inches of boiling water, and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain cashews through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the soaking water, and add to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
Add roasted vegetables, lentils, garlic, and lemon or lime juice to the food processor bowl. Pulse until a coarse paste forms, 2 to 3 5-second pulses. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with parsley or cilantro, drizzle remaining oil on top, and serve with warm crackers, flatbread, or buttered slices of toasted sourdough bread.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. To serve, bring dip to room temperature or warm in a microwave.