Babaganoush

Here is my version of this Lebanese eggplant dish. The trick is to use a good quality olive oil, fresh eggplant so the dish is not bitter, and grill the eggplant for a nice charred, smokey flavor. If you can’t grill, use the broiler, but lower the rack so the eggplant has time to take on flavor before carbonizing. Also, be sure the tahini you use is fresh.

I also like to use garlic that has been grilled with the eggplant and add some spices – toasted and ground cumin and some smoked paprika, also known as Pimenton de la Vera.

When selecting eggplant, you can use globe, Italian, or even the milder, skinnier Chinese eggplant. Just watch the skinny ones so they don’t burn. I prefer the Italian for size and flavor. If using globes, be careful not to get them too large or the outside will burn long before the inside begins to soften.

INGREDIENTS:

2 to 2½ pounds eggplant  (two eggplants about 6 inches long by 4 inches across)
2 medium cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons tahini
1 large Meyer lemon, juiced
Olive oil as needed, about 3-4 tablespoons
1 tablespoon cumin, toasted in a dry pan until aromatic and ground to a powder
1 teaspoon Pimenton de la Vera (smoked paprika)
Salt and pepper to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon each

METHOD:

Get a grill or barbecue hot. Use a little olive oil to lightly coat the outside of the eggplant and 2 garlic cloves. Be sure to prick the skin of the eggplant all over or you run the risk of the eggplant exploding on the grill. Messy and dangerous!

When the grill is hot, place the eggplant over the heat, and place the garlic cloves off to the side. Cover the grill, and cook the eggplant to char them evenly and cook them through, turning frequently. Cook the garlic until lightly colored and a little soft inside, removing them as soon as they are done.

When the eggplant is done, remove to a non-reactive dish and allow to cool until you can handle them. When you can, pick them up and use a sharp thin bladed knife to peel away the skin. Leaving a little bit of stuck on charring is fine, as it will add flavor.

Add the eggplant to a food processor (a blender can work, but it might take some liquid get everything moving and can result in a thin, runny babaganoush, which is not the desired result.) Peel the grilled garlic and chop it and sprinkle in. Pulse a few times to distribute the mixture.

Add the tahini, and half the lemon juice, along with the spices and olive oil. Process just until smooth. Taste, add more lemon juice as needed, and add salt and pepper to taste. Process further just to finish blending flavors.

The dish is ready to serve, but flavors will develop and deepen if the babaganoush is given a little time to rest. Serve cold or room temperature.

Chef’s Notes and Tips:
Traditionally, depending on the country, the babaganoush would be put into a shallow bowl, and then topped with things like a drizzle of olive oil, paprika, pine nuts or pomegranate seeds. Serve with pita bread.

Babaganoush will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

YIELD: 3-4 cups

SOURCE:  Chef Andrew Cohen

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