Baba ghanoush, a Middle Eastern appetizer that I think of as a cousin to Roasted Garlic Hummus, is hands-down my favorite way to eat eggplant. It works both as a dip with fresh vegetables or sourdough pita bread or crackers and as a spread on toast or in pita sandwiches. The dip has a rich, smoky flavor and creamy texture – when properly made.
I first tasted baba ghanoush, sometimes spelled baba ghanouj, at a San Francisco restaurant that took the time to char the ingredients rather than stirring in liquid smoke or other additives. At home, I find it easiest to grill the eggplant and garlic, especially on hot summer days. I use a charcoal grill, but a gas grill or oven roasting produces similar results.
With this charring technique, it’s easy to fill the entire grill rack with eggplant and then puree the softened flesh and freeze it for a yearlong supply. I recommend freezing just the eggplant puree in 1-cup portions and then defrosting the puree and blending in the other ingredients when you’re ready to eat it. The finished dip will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
You can take the flavor a step further by smoking the eggplant like you would smoke mushrooms for vegetarian barbecue. The smoked eggplant can actually replace the mushrooms for another delicious barbecue twist. For baba ghanoush, smoke the eggplant for 30 to 45 minutes, and then add coals and grill it and the garlic at a higher temperature until soft enough to puree. For vegetarian barbecue, smoke and then peel and slice the eggplant before grilling or searing it. Let it cook just until it softens but still holds its shape, and then toss it in the barbecue sauce.
Grilled Eggplant Baba Ghanoush
Makes about 1-1/4 cups
1-1/2 pounds eggplant, stems removed
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Cut the eggplant in half if long and thin or into thick slices if round. Drizzle or brush the cut surfaces with oil and place on a medium-hot grill; put the garlic cloves on the medium-low edge of the grill. Grill each side of the eggplant for three to five minutes, until soft and slightly charred; leave the garlic on the grill for another eight to 10 minutes, until soft. Let both cool until easy to handle.
Remove the peel from the eggplant, scooping the flesh into a food processor; you should have about 1 cup. Puree until smooth. Squeeze the garlic from its skin and add it to the food processor, along with the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, tahini, lemon juice and salt. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve at room temperature or chilled, drizzled with additional olive oil if desired.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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