Thursday, September 9, 2010

baba ghannouj! secret to the best ever!

baba ghannouj—the fabulous lebanese eggplant dip that my little doggie is named after—can be sublime or it can be dull. to make it sublime, there is a secret which is, of course, shared in my cookbook, alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking

here are some photos that show the secret for fool-proof-to-live-for baba ghannouj! people who have tasted our recipe swear it is the best they have ever eaten—even uttered from the mouths of those who don't like eggplant. this version has a smokiness and a garlic base that sings in your mouth!

first, we begin with one or two big, firm, and beautiful in-season eggplants; but wait till you see what we do to them!

if you have a gas stove, like i do and like mama did, the best way is to put the eggplant directly on the flame for about 15 minutes on one side and then gently turn it so as not to pierce the skin and release the juices by using two wooden spoons to hold the ends of the eggplant. three turns will char the entire eggplant and it will look like this when done and placed on a wooden cutting board to cool.

if you are not fortunate to be cooking with gas, you can broil the whole eggplant, or better yet, put it on the grill, which will achieve the same smoky result.

the next step is to butterfly or filet it like this when it has cooled enough to handle:

and carefully open it up so it looks like this:

carefully scoop out the tender eggplant with a spoon, leaving the charred shell and any bits of burned skin behind.

transfer it directly into a bowl of the food processor that already has garlic and sea salt pulsed and minced in it. pulse the eggplant well with the garlic and sea salt.

next add fresh squeezed lemon juice and tahini (sesame seed puree) and pulse.

and the last touch, a bit of dried spearmint—this addition came from fellow doumanians, the haddads, and is not something mama did, but has become my preference—mix, taste, and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon, salt, or tahini. the haddads sometimes add a bit of yogurt to theirs, and i've only done this when i needed to stretch my recipe for unexpected guests.

spread on a lovely serving dish, garnish with dried and fresh spearmint and a drizzle of olive oil! wallah!—the best baba ghannouj you've ever had! 

if you require more details, the precise recipe can be found in alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking, on page 161. when i was growing up, mama didn't have a food processor and made this the traditional way, by pounding and pulverising first, the salt and garlic, and then the eggplant.

and baba ghannouj fans will be pleased to know there's an alternate version to this without the tahini, called called batinjan mtabbal. in lebanon, it is garnished with pomegranate seeds, giving it a colorful, tart edge. be sure to let me know how yours came out and which you prefer!

my computer died a couple of months ago, and i'm so delighted to finally be back to my blogs—i've been cooking and photographing all summer, so there's lots more to post! stay tuned and sahtein!

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