Until recently, I’d never had baba ganoush.. in my life. I’d always assumed it to be soft and squishy, bitter or watery (like poorly prepared eggplant!)–analogous to its violet mother nightshade. But a few months ago, a small plate, with a sparkling thread of olive oil draped over the ridges, was placed before me, and I ate–and groaned–without truly knowing what it was. Smoky and creamy without being heavy; garlicky and bright, without being citrusy; ugh! Adoration.
As a general rule, I dislike disliking things–especially foods–and I try my hardest to get over these particularities. The more foods I like, right, the more foods I like! I’m so happy to not be a particular eater, but rather one who can pretty much find something anywhere, and revel in the flavor of the individual ingredients. While I’d cooked with eggplant from time to time previously, nothing could prepare me for this eggplant revelation.
So shortly thereafter, I dragged O to our favorite nearby Moroccan joint, and we hunched over a shared bowl of baba like street dogs, not sure when our next round would come. I’d read that to make really good baba ganoush, you have to have some type of grill, whatever, hot flames, coals, something like that. Well, at this point in our lives, we have a tiny Weber-to-go grill that we tend to misplace around the yard. Oh, and it was like.. January.
So that wouldn’t work.
A few unsatisfactorily infrequent orders of baba ganoush later, I found a recipe that required neither open flames or grills nor dairy! Since we try to avoid dairy as best we can (and as documented in my blog The Laidback Vegan), we were stoked and dove right in. Simply put, the product was insane. Not as charred-smoky as you might find in a traditional Middle Eastern place, but there was an elegant smokiness surely present that mingled with the pungent garlic, softly sweet, creamy eggplant, nutty tahini, and a touch of lemon to brighten the whole thing. We started eating entire meals comprised of a massive bowl of baba ganoush and raw carrots, radishes, zucchini, and cucumbers. Actually… I violently recommend it.
This recipe is a loose one–each eggplant will be a different size, requiring more or less tahini, more or less lemon, more or less salt. And of course, each person’s taste is strongly varied when it comes to something like this. My recommendation is to start low and add smaller increments of the salt, lemon, and tahini, until you’ve reached a flavor that you really love. Does your baba feel a bit heavy and sticky? Try a bit more lemon. Does it feel flat, one-dimensional? Try a bit more tahini. Does it taste properly smoky and not heavy, but just not quite “there“? Add a bit more salt.
You can serve this with pita or fresh veggies; it’s perfect either way! Try it as a mezze platter for a last-minute get-together: add a variety of olives (try green stuffed with garlic, kalamata tossed in fresh herbs, and dry-cured black olives); a block of feta cubed and tossed in a bit of olive oil and some fresh herbs; a few stuffed grape leaves (dolma; dolmata) from the olive bar; and a bowl of baba ganoush with pita wedges and crudité. Easy, refreshing summer entertaining in a heartbeat!
Preheat your broiler on high and pierce eggplants all over with a fork. Place under broiler on a baking sheet, turning every so often, until blackened all over. Takes about 15 minutes.
Lower heat to 350ºF and bake for about 20 - 30 minutes. Some eggplants are ready earlier than others so check at 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and place a large bowl over the top of the eggplant. Let cool to room or handling temperature. The bowl helps the eggplants steam so their skin is easier to remove.
Once cool, remove the top and peel the skin off the eggplant and discard. Place in a blender or food process, along with the garlic, tahini, and paprika. Start with the smaller amounts in the ingredient list.
Blend until smooth and taste. Add more garlic, lemon, or tahini, to taste. Stir in paprika and 1 teaspoon salt and taste. Add additional salt, if desired (we typically use 2 teaspoons). Refrigerate and serve chilled.