I could probably eat my own weight in baba ganoush, the silky-textured eggplant dip that’s a constant of nearly every Middle Eastern culinary tradition. On a warm day with a cold beer and a pile of pita bread, there are few appetizers with which I’d rather spoil my appetite. It’s also a breeze to make at home (heat and a bowl are the only real equipment required) and scales up or down easily, depending on how many folks you’re feeding.
Traditionally, whole eggplants are grilled over hot coals until charred and tender, then smashed together with garlic, lemon and tahini (if you don’t care for it or can’t find it, substitute tangy, thick yogurt as they do in Turkey). I cheated a bit and just roasted my eggplant in the oven, adding smoked paprika and a dash of liquid smoke, which sounds like a weirdly sinister product, but it’s actually just real-deal hickory smoke that’s condensed with water. (Also a nice boost to homemade BBQ sauce.) Rigorously authentic? Maybe not, but my taste buds couldn’t tell.
Baba Ganoush (Smoky Eggplant Dip)
adapted from Sally Butcher’s The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian, 2012; serves 6-8
- 2 pounds eggplant (about two large)
- 3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
- 4 fat garlic cloves, in their skins
- one lemon
- one tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for roasting the garlic and for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, plus more for garnish
- kosher salt
- few drops liquid smoke (optional)
- pita bread, for serving
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. With a paring knife, make several 1″ slices on the skin of the eggplants. Rub a bit of olive oil on the garlic cloves and wrap in a 4″ square of aluminum foil. Toss the garlic packet on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet with the eggplant. Roast until the eggplant are tender and collapsing, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Remove the calyx and peel away the skins; transfer the eggplant to a colander over the sink and let any excess juice drain away, about 5-10 minutes.
While the eggplant cools, squeeze the roasted garlic from their jackets into a medium bowl. Transfer the eggplant to the bowl; drizzle the tahini, one tablespoon of olive oil and two tablespoons of lemon juice over top. Add the the paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and a dash of liquid smoke, if using. With a potato masher or wooden spoon, smash the eggplant until well mixed into an even, slightly lumpy mixture. Taste and add a bit more salt or lemon juice to taste. Transfer to your serving bowl and garnish with more paprika and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pita or flatbread for dipping.
Note: the dip’s flavor improves with a little bit of time, so consider making it the night before. At the market, look for eggplants that are heavy for their size with taut, glossy skin; store in the fridge for a couple of days until needed.