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Up in smoke: Baba ghannouj. January 1, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. To me, there are two kinds of baba ghannouj, the Middle Eastern eggplant-and-garlic-based dip: smoky, and awful. Baba ghannouj is sublime—far better than hummus, in my view—when there’s a smoky flavor to the eggplant, as though it’s been charred over the coals while it roasted. But, lacking that smoky flavor, what you end up with is a bland, oily, somewhat bitter dip that makes you wonder why on earth you bothered. And that’s a real shame.

I’ve always wanted to make my own baba ghannouj, so I could make sure it had that luscious smoky flavor. But I confess I’ve been somewhat intimidated. I finally started roasting eggplants this fall, but had one disaster after another (all related to going off and forgetting about them). Still no homemade baba ghannouj.

One reason I decided to get brave and try making it at home was my decision to break down and add liquid smoke. I’d always avoided liquid smoke, thinking it was some carcinogenic chemical cocktail. But checking the ingredients list for Wright’s All Natural Hickory Seasoning Liquid Smoke at the local grocery, the ingredients were water and natural hickory smoke concentrate. Good? Bad? No worse than cooking eggplant on a grill? I decided to give it a shot.

Everything came together when our friend Ben and I were at our local Kutztown famers’ market last week and they were selling a whole bag of eggplants for a pittance. This time, I was determined to do or die. I cut the tops and bottoms off the eggplants, split them down the center, and stabbed the skin of the tops numerous times to allow steam to escape. I rubbed the tops and bottoms with olive oil and laid them cut-side-down on aluminum-foil-lined baking trays, then baked them at 350 degrees F. for about an hour, until they were fork-tender. Then I turned off the heat and let the eggplant halves cool until they were easy to touch.

Next, I rubbed the skins off the eggplant halves. This was horrifying to me, since I’m texture-sensitive and touching the oily skins made my own skin crawl. I swore I’d never make baba ghannouj again, until my friend Susan, who happened to be visiting us, suggested roasting the eggplants after skinning them. Oh. I could peel them, wrap them in aluminum foil, and cook them until they were tender. No slimy skins to work off. Thanks, Susan!

The next step was mashing the cooked, skinned eggplant with a fork, then adding tahini, ground cumin, Trocomare or RealSalt, lemon pepper, lemon juice, and plenty of minced crushed garlic, along with a generous dollop of liquid smoke. Mash, stir, mash, taste, adjust seasonings… aaaahhhh!!! Serve with hot multigrain pita wedges and raw veggies for dipping (we like broccoli and cauliflower florets, red, yellow and orange bell pepper strips, celery sticks, radish slices, grape tomatoes, and Romaine or other firm lettuce leaves). The best baba ghannouj!

Mind you, not everybody was as delighted with my baba ghannouj as I was. Susan loved it. But our friend Ben, who adores my homemade hummus, thought I should have thrown everything in the blender and created a silky-smooth, hummuslike consistency, rather than the chunky, salsalike texture of the baba ghannouj I made. I liked the texture of the baba ghannouj, but am willing to try the blender technique, as long as OFB is willing to clean the blender!

How do you like your baba ghannouj?

               ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

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