For a long time, the idea of eggplant made me slightly queasy. It was a weird vegetable — kind of soft, kind of bitter, unpredictably textured. I just couldn't wrap my head around it. So I avoided it for years. What I needed was a gateway to eggplant, an ambassador from the other side. Baba ghanoush, Papa Eggplant, as my Greek friend calls it, was what I needed.
Ever since I was introduced to baba ghanoush, that smooth, creamy, smoky eggplant dip, I've been hooked. It gave me the gumption to try other eggplant dishes too, and finally fall in love with the big purple thing. (My latest favorite: this eggplant salad).
Eggplant, of course, is a summer vegetable but, like lemons, I keep it in my kitchen year-round. It's just a vegetable that feels so right for winter, especially when roasted and whipped into a dip like this. In the summertime I do like to grill the eggplant for even more smokiness; it tastes so good with its fresh garlic and the bite of tahini. Try this spread on good sandwich bread with soft cheese and crunchy vegetables.
Like many classic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes, baba ghanoush comes in many forms. Some people only make it with tahini; others don't. This is my preferred method. Make it your own, though, especially if you're looking for your own gateway to eggplant.
D.I.Y. Baba GhanoushMakes 1 to 1 1/2 cups, enough to serve 4 people as an appetizer
1 large eggplant (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, from 1 lemon
1/4 cup tahini
Freshly ground black pepper
Ground sumac, to garnish
Heat the oven to 425ºF. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Oil the cut side lightly with olive oil and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Roast, cut side up, for 1 hour, or until very soft and blackened around the edges. The eggplant halves will be puffy and expanded, but will collapse as they cool. Let cool for 1 hour.
Scoop the flesh away from the skin and discard the skin. Put the eggplant flesh in in a fine mesh strainer. Press out and drain any juice that will come out. Transfer to a mortar or food processor. Add the garlic, lemon juice, tahini, and black pepper and blend thoroughly until very smooth. Taste and add additional lemon juice, olive oil, salt, or pepper to taste, if desired.
Refrigerate for at least one hour to let the flavors blend. Before serving dust lightly with ground sumac. Serve with warm pita bread, baked chips, or chopped raw vegetables.
Refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container for up to five days.
Related: Why is My Eggplant Bitter?
(Images: Faith Durand)