Like most people, I absolutely adore appetizers and I would subsist on them to the near exclusivity of everything else if I could. Alas, most are not so easy on the waistline. They tend to be carb-heavy and cheese-heavy, and many are best if deep-fried. And as a group, they tend to be light on the inclusion of nutrient dense vegetables. So I don’t make them nearly as often as I’d like. Which makes me feel kind of sad.
It was a great pleasure, then, to discover baba ghanoush several years ago. I feel no guilt for making a dinner out of this dish, as it’s mainly just pureed, grilled, spiced eggplant. Baba ghanoush is Middle Eastern (Lebanese, actually) in origin, so it should surprise no one who reads this blog that I hadn’t heard of it until moving to New York. I’ve taken quite a shine to Middle Eastern cuisine in recent years. I have to credit it with expanding my palate quite a bit. You can expect to see more Middle Eastern dishes here in the coming months.
Baba means “daddy” in Lebanese and ghanoush means “coquettish” or “pampered”. So there you have it: a pampered daddy, which is likely a (sort of) polite reference to a sultan of a royal harem, which means this dish may have originated in a harem. But, no one really knows for sure, and it’s delicious and healthy no matter where it comes from. And, even if it was born in those unsavory circumstances, it’s not like it’s the only beloved dish or ingredient to have some rather dark originations. Graham crackers, anyone?
The basic components of baba ghanoush are smoky eggplant, garlic and tahini (sesame paste). Beyond that, it usually includes lemon, various spices, and maybe some onion. Pita chips are what I’ve always used as a dipping vessel. This recipe is made spicy with harissa, but you can always omit it if you please.
Source: Global Kitchen, by Jeffrey Saad
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp caraway seed
4 Japanese or baby eggplants
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs finely chopped garlic
2 tbs chopped fresh mint
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp tahini
1 tbs harissa
In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the cumin and caraway seeds until you smell them, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Grind them to a fine powder in a spice or coffee grinder.
Turn on your grill to high heat. Once hot, place the eggplants on the grill and rotate occasionally until they are blackened. Let cool.
While the eggplants are grilling, in a medium skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once it is hot, add the garlic and mint and cook for 30 seconds, just until you can smell the garlic. Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor.
Peel the eggplants and discard the stems and skins. Put the flesh (you should have about 2 cups) in the food processor with the garlic and mint. Add salt, tahini, harissa, and ground spices. Depending on how you like your dip, either pulse-chop until combined but still chunky, or puree until completely smooth. I like mine very smooth, but either way is fine. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the food processor bowl to make sure everything is evenly combined, regardless of your desired texture.
Put the dip in a serving bowl and garnish with an extra small drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pita chips alongside. This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It’s best eaten at room temperature.