Eggplant and I have something of a sordid past. Not only do I find it to be one of the most high-maintenance vegetables (requires pre-salting and draining, deep-frying or long cooking times to be tasty), but I’ve had varying levels of success preparing it myself. I’ve made pasta with eggplant that had the texture of packing peanuts; and not long after that, I made perfectly crisp-fried eggplant parm. I’ve stewed eggplant to just the right silky texture in a flavorful ratatouille; then, within a few short months, I screwed up roasted eggplant to the point where it was like gnawing on tree bark.
Regardless of my eggplant insecurities, one of my favorite ways to eat it is in baba ghanoush, a Levantine eggplant and tahini spread. Like all eggplant recipes, it can easily go south if not prepared correctly. In this case, it needs enough time to roast until it’s soft all the way through. As for flavorings, I like my baba ghanoush to be smoky and salty, with a good dose of spice and lemon–and not too much tahini.
In this recipe, adapted from David Lebovitz, the eggplant is charred on a gas stovetop before roasting in the oven for a good 40 minutes until very tender. The charring step gives it that characteristic smokiness without requiring a smoker. It’s then blitzed in a food processor with fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, chile powder, red pepper flake and parsley. You can adjust the amounts of any of the ingredients to your liking–more spicy, less garlicky, etc. All I ask is that you not rush the eggplant in the oven, or it will betray you–something I’ve gotten quite used to.
Note: To make simple pita chips for dipping in your baba ghanoush, preheat the oven to 400F. Cut pita rounds into eight triangles, and place them in a single layer on sheet trays. Brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and a little black pepper (you can also sprinkle them with ras al hanout, a Moroccan spice blend, for a more flavorful chip). Bake them for 12 to 15 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Let them cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes. You can store them in an airtight container on the counter for up to a week.
For best results, let the spread sit in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours prior to serving.
3 medium-sized eggplants
1/2 cup tahini
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/8 teaspoon chile powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
Pita chips, for serving
Method: Preheat the oven to 375F.
Prick each eggplant a few times, then char the outside of the eggplants by placing them directly on the flame of a gas burner. Turn them every few minutes until the eggplants are charred on all sides. This will take 5 to 7 minutes.
Place the eggplants on a sheet tray and roast them for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re completely soft. You’ll know they’re done when a paring knife goes in with no resistance. Remove them from the oven and let cool.
Scrape out the pulp of the eggplants and drop it in a blender or food processor. Add the tahini, a large sprinkling of salt and pepper, the lemon juice, garlic, chile powder, red pepper flakes, olive oil and parsley. Blend until smooth.
Taste the baba ghanoush for seasoning and adjust as needed. Scoop the spread into an airtight container, and let sit in the fridge until ready to serve. To serve, spoon some baba ghanoush into a shallow bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with toasted pita chips or baguette slices for dipping.