Friday, October 28, 2011

Baba Ganoush

I like the name of this Middle Eastern appetizer, and I like its faintly exotic taste. Variously written in English as Baba Ganoush, Baba Ghannouj or Baba Ghannoug, it’s hard to spell but easy to eat. Spoon it onto triangles of pita bread, or spread it generously over dark, heavily seeded breads. Whenever I have Baba Ganoush, my mind’s eye sees Turkish carpets, wall sconces, and fat, flickering candles; I can almost feel the camel swaying under my body! Baba Ganoush usually has a slightly smoky flavor. You can achieve that by charring the unpeeled eggplant over the open flame of a gas stove. I tried for the same effect by slipping the eggplants under the broiler (more or less hoping they’d spontaneously combust), but their skins bubbled and burbled and never did char. I’m getting ahead of myself! Here’s the recipe:

Baba Ganoush:
3 or 4 baby eggplants
¾ c. tahini (roasted sesame paste) in oil
1-½ tsp. coarse salt
3 tbsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced 
1/8 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 drop liquid smoke (optional … I didn’t use it)
½ bunch cilantro leaves (about 1 c.), coarsely chopped

Prick the skin of each eggplant, roasting each over an open flame until the skin chars. Lacking an open flame, broil them 20 min. with the oven rack at its highest position. Turn once and broil a further 10 min. (Alternately, bake them. Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F. With the oven rack at its middle setting, bake eggplants on a parchment-covered baking sheet for 20 to 30 min., or until soft) Cool eggplants 10 min. before slicing off the stem and cutting each in half. Scoop out the innards. If the seeds are large, remove them; if theyre small and soft, dont bother. I use my hands to separate the meat from the skin and any charred bits, but you can also use a curved grapefruit knife. Don't wait too long to do any of these little jobs ... the eggplant will be less pliable (and harder to work with) as it cools.
Using a food processor or mini-prep, pulse-purée eggplant with all remaining ingredients except cilantro. Add cilantro a few seconds before finishing, to allow leaves some definition in the dish. Season to taste with additional lemon or salt. Some people refrigerate Baba Ganoush several hours before serving it to allow the flavors to blend; I don't think it makes a lick of difference. It’s also delicious served at once, with crackers, a baguette, or pita bread triangles. Can be made three or four days in advance.

Use fresh, firm eggplants with a nice, shiny skin
Transfer from hot oven. Cool 10 min.
Strip eggplant innards from skins
There'll be quite a pile of skins! Pop eggplants into mini-prep ...

Add garlic ...
A little olive oil ... and more!

Slice pita bread into triangles ...
Serve Baba Ganoush as an appetizer or alongside soup or salad

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