A Smokin' Baba Ghanouj

In her cookbook, "A Well-Seasoned Appetite," food writer Molly O'Neill poignantly describes this time of year as "summer's last stand." In her introductory notes to a chapter entitled "Almost Autumn," O'Neill writes: "Summer's end seems to ask for deep, huskier flavors, the kinds born of roasting, simmering and baking. Romancing summer and reveling in the new gives way to a relationship. It's time to tend."

eggplant"
Chinese eggplant is great on the grill. (Kim O'Donnel)

In my own kitchen, I see this shift, looking at the new (apples and pears) but also finding ways to bridge the romance of summer with the "impulse to insulate against cooler winds."

This week, as I pay my respects to summer's end, I am giving eggplant one last dance. And like O'Neill, I look for more intense flavors that stand up to earlier sunsets and transitional breezes.

For these reasons, I turn to the smoky notes of baba ghanouj, an eggplant puree of Middle Eastern origins. Roasted for about an hour, the flesh practically melts and feels like a hushed whisper on the tongue.

A few tablespoons of tahini paste, made from ground sesame seeds, brings a layer of nutty richness to the mix. The juice of a lemon brings the puree out of a lazy languor, with tart brightness that keeps the equation balanced.

At this time of year, eggplants of all shapes and sizes emerge for their last hurrah. Although all are worth exploration, the most baba ghanouj-friendly are of the larger, dark purple varieties - either "globe" or "Italian" - which have a higher flesh-skin ratio.

Share your favorite way to savor the last bit of eggplant (or baba ghanouj variation) in the comments area below.

Baba Ghanouj
Adapted from "Lebanese Cuisine" by Madelain Farah

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant (Western, "globe" variety or Italian works here)
Olive oil to taste
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
3-4 tablespoons tahini paste
1/4cup water
1/4-1/2 cup lemon juice, to taste
optional garnish: chopped parsley, pomegranate seeds

Method:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice eggplant in half, lengthwise, and place on a baking sheet. Roast until flesh is extremely tender and thoroughly cooked, about 1 hour. Brush olive oil on top of eggplant halves if flesh appears to drying out. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Drain off any resulting liquid.

With a teaspoon, scoop out flesh and place into the bowl of a food processor. Add garlic and salt, and puree gradually, using pulse setting. Add tahini and pulse. Finally add water and lemon juice, and pulse-puree. Taste for salt and tartness, and adjust accordingly.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 20, 2006; 12:05 PM ET Seasonal Produce
Previous: Solving the Spinach Scare | Next: Rosh Hashanah Sweets and Savories

Comments

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Love your eggplant recipe using tahini, however, try this dish without the tahini. Just add salt, lemon and olive oil. It makes for a great vegie warm or cold and is used in Turkish restaurants just like fast food here.
My only concern with eggplant is wondering how you get that smokey taste. Some say just burn the skin. What do you say.
Thank you

Posted by: Joanie, Falls Church | September 20, 2006 2:00 PM

Rather than roating for a whole hour, I just slice in half and broil, skin up, for about 20-25 minutes. The skin will char, but the flesh is protected. Much quicker when you're hungry.

Posted by: Rob | September 20, 2006 2:46 PM

I'm so glad to see a real baba ghanouj recipe here, unpolluted with yogurt or chickpeas. I usually grill my eggplant to get the right flavor. Over medium flame, the skin will char while the flesh steams itself soft. Then salt and allow to drain. You get smoky flavor and very silky texture this way.

Posted by: annapolis | September 20, 2006 3:01 PM

Like Annapolis, I like to roast my eggplants for baba ghanouj on the grill... and for an extra flavor sensation, I make slits in the flesh and stuff slivers of garlic in the slits before grilling. Then I add additional garlic during the mixing part so it still has that yummy raw bite.

Preserved lemons are also great in baba ghanouj.

Posted by: Divine Ms. K, soon-to-be of Arlington | September 21, 2006 3:08 PM

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