From time to time (i.e., when I can’t think of anything better to post about), I think I’m going to use this space to muse about specific recipes. And I think I’m going to start this week with one of my favorites: Baba Ghanooj.
I have to admit, I ate Baba Ghanooj for several years before even bothering to find out what was in it. Discovering that the main ingredient was, in fact, eggplant, didn’t really bother me. (I actually rather like eggplant in just about any form except raw.) But for a long time, it never occurred to me to even try to make it for myself.
At least, not until my Beloved Husband sent me a limerick:
While a nice aubergine’s roasting through,
Chop garlic, perhaps scallions too.
Then mash them up nice,
With olive oil, spice,
And tahini. Serve pita and goo.
–Limerick from OEDLIF
And I thought, “Hey. That doesn’t sound hard. I bet I could make that.”
As recipes go, I’ve had a lot less to work with. So I gave it a shot. Decided that “spice” was open to interpretation, but that cumin would probably be good. And decided to leave out the scallions.
As I recall, the result was somewhat…lacking. I wasn’t sure just what it was lacking, but it needed something…more.
Research was obviously required. I’m lucky; Denver has several very good Middle Eastern restaurants, and for the most part, they have Baba Ghanooj that ranges from very good to excellent. After sampling, I determined that what was lacking was something to give my baba a touch of an acidic tang.
Vinegar was too strong, so I settled on lemon juice. That helped, but it seemed to need just a little something more. So I picked the mildest-tasting vinegar I had (rice vinegar) and added a small amount.
That turned out to work pretty well.
But it still wasn’t the best baba ghanooj I’d ever had. The best baba ghanooj (at least in Denver) comes from Damascus Restaurant. It hits the palate in the same way a rich chocolate does.
Now, naturally, they’re not going to just hand over their recipe. But after extensive sampling, I’m pretty sure that the secret ingredient is pomegranate juice. They also add some kind of finely-chopped nut; I’m guessing it might be pistachio.
So my recipe, as it currently stands, looks something like this:
3 large eggplants
1 tablespoon canola oil
3/4 cup tahini
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 large cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon rice vinegar OR 2 teaspoons pomegranate juice
1/4 cup pistachio nuts, finely chopped (optional)
Olive oil, chopped parsley, ground sumac and/or cumin, for garnish
Wash eggplants and cut them in half longways. Coat thinly with oil. Place on preheated grill and cook with cover closed for about 10 minutes; turn over and cook for an additional ten minutes. Eggplants are cooked when they become soft. Remove from grill and allow to cool for ten minutes before handling (refrigeration speeds the process).
Meanwhile, mix together tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, salt, garlic powder, vinegar or pomegranate juice and nuts (if desired) in a small bowl or large measuring cup.
Scoop the meat out of the eggplant skins into a large bowl. Mash with fork or potato masher until any large lumps have been mashed. (Alternatively, place eggplant in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.). Add tahini mixture and blend thoroughly. Scoop onto a plate and smooth the surface. Add garnish as desired. Serve with pita bread or just a fork. Makes about two cups of baba ghanooj.
I like roasting the eggplants on the grill, for that bit of smoky flavor (which I like in my Baba Ghanooj), but there’s no reason they couldn’t be roasted in an oven instead. I’d give them 20 minutes at 350F, then check for doneness.
Now, this yields a pretty good Baba Ghanooj, but it’s still not quite as good as Damascus’. I have a couple of changes I’d like to try.
The first is that I’ve heard that you should sprinkle raw eggplant generously with salt, to draw out the bitterness, then rinse it well before cooking. That might make a difference in the flavor of the final dish. It’s worth a try, anyway.
The other change I’d like to try is to swap out more (or maybe even all) of the lemon juice for pomegranate juice. That might prove to be the key.
Now I just need a good sale on eggplant, and a weekend day that’s nice enough for me to fire up the grill…
I’ll keep y’all posted.