Scientists say after seven or so years your body’s bones and organs regenerate, meaning most of us are a lot younger than we think, and that we truly do become what we eat over a short period of time. So those of us who live in the Middle East are eventually built from the amazing variety of fresh food one finds here. Among which is the magical and versatile eggplant, one of the most consumed vegetables in the Middle East, which like the tomato, is actually a fruit.
If we are going to be made of eggplant, it might as well be the best eggplant out there. And if you are looking for the king of all eggplant dip recipes, go no further. This one, I’ve developed over a few years is sure to make your guests salivating and waiting for an invitation to dinner, no matter how informal. The trick is in the oven, the eggplant and the tehini (tehina), you use. And take it from this lazy vegewarian, it’s one of the simplest things you can do in the kitchen.
The best baba ghanoush in the world – the recipe:
Bread for dipping
Choosing your eggplant:
When choosing your eggplant, find one that’s firm, heavy in the hand, and which has a shiny skin. If you are lucky enough to lay your hands on a “wrinkled” variety, known in some parts of the Levant as baladi eggplant, meaning ‘wild’ or ‘from the land’ in Arabic, then you are almost guaranteed the best eggplant dip in the world. If you do lay your hands on the baladi variety (see my picture above), buy more than one.
They are not always in season, and most chefs would argue that these make the most splendid dip. Big thick grooves, a deep purple color, and a wide rather than a long fruit is what defines the baladi. Their cooked meat tends to be darker, and with fewer seeds and less water. Find them in markets, ones that tend to cater either to the gourmand or to the average working class person.
Smokin’ eggplants that sometimes explode
Now that you have your eggplant/s in hand, you want to cook it. Throw it in the oven at pretty much the highest temperature your oven can go. There is no need to prick the eggplant, but you may want to put a bit of tin foil under it, or a tray to catch the juice that might spill out. This is one of the rare moments when lazy chefs like myself can burn the food, and say that I’ve done it on purpose when the family complains of the smoke.
And you want the eggplant to smoke. So whether you are cooking in C or Fahrenheit, let the oven blast. If you are energy-saving conscious, cook the eggplants with other foods that need high heat, like potatoes or a casserole.
There is no set time for cooking. It depends on how much water is in the eggplant, and how high you want to go. I estimate an hour of high temp cooking will do the job. Keep the door closed. Having a convection oven can keep away the smoke. Small toaster ovens don’t really work well, but if you don’t have a fancy high-powered German oven like I do, you could try tossing them on the barbecue or into the coals of a fire (wrapped in tinfoil) to achieve the same, if not better, effect. The smoke is what adds to the flavor.
After adequate baking (you also have to make sure that the eggplants don’t totally dry up), take them out of them oven and sit on a plate to cool. You can also serve the dip hot or warm if you can’t wait, so up to you.
Putting the eggplant dip together
Slice open the eggplant with a knife. If the innards looks a bit deflated with some brownish broth swirling around, you’ve probably done a good job cooking. If the meat of the eggplant is tough and really juicy, light green, and hasn’t deflated, chances are you need to cook it longer. You need to be the judge of that.
Baladi eggplant innards straight from the oven.
Scoop out all the eggplant innards, scraping even some darkened caramelized bits from the inside. Place it all in a medium sized bowl, leaving the hard skin behind.
Now depending on how rich you want the dip to be, you add tehina, or tehini, however you call it, to taste. Don’t use tehina already prepared as a dip. But the raw unmixed variety that comes in a jar, plastic or glass. Tehina is a sesame seed paste which can be bought throughout the Middle East, and in health food stores or the ethnic sections of most grocery stores in America, the UK, and Canada.
Sometimes I pour half a 350 ml jar into the eggplant innards, or sometimes – like in the hotter weather when you want it to be more light – I add in only a few tablespoons. Whole, organic tehina tastes best, especially when there are crunchy bits in there, and make sure you stir it before you add it in. Don’t just pour in the oil that tends to collect on top of the tehina jar.
The trick to a good baba ghanoush is fresh, high quality ingredients. Organic and local if you can get them.
Now you want to add lemon juice. Real lemon juice. The bottled variety doesn’t cut it. Neither does vinegar. Again depending on taste, add in a half lemon or up to two whole lemons (the juice) depending on how much eggplant you have and how much juice is in the lemon. One part of my family likes it sour, the other part less so. I make it both ways to please all, at least some of the time. Half to one whole lemon per medium sized eggplant is a good estimate.
Now add in fresh garlic. Again, dried or frozen garlic doesn’t work. You can add two or three teeth per eggplant with a garlic press. Add in some rough sea salt to taste, a few tablespoons of high grade olive oil, and some *fresh* parsley to garnish. The parsley is optional.
Mix it all together with a big spoon. No need to blenderize it as Hamutal suggests in another baba ghanoush recipe we’re featured.
If you’ve added a lot of tehina paste you might want to thin out the dip by adding some water. Go for dip which has the consistency of porridge, or a bit thinner than hummous spread, depending on your reference point. The more often you make this dip, the better it gets. At least that’s what my family tells me. Try it yourself. It’s pretty much a recipe that you can’t go wrong by. The key here is not in the precise quantity of ingredients you use, but how fresh they are.
Baba ghanoush, or eggplant dip, ready for devouring.
When your baba ghanoush dip is ready, serve it on crusty bread, on your home made pita, serve it on crackers, dollop it on pasta, or just scoop it into your mouth. It can store in the fridge for about a week. But it’s usually gobbled up well before the due date.
Want some more Middle East recipes? Those good for lazy vegewarians?