The market was full of beautiful eggplants this weekend so I came home with a bagful, along with tomatoes, basil, zucchinis and peppers and a plan to make a pot of the late summer favorite, ratatouille. Of course I had too many eggplants – this happens every year – so my thoughts turned to baba ganoush.
Baba ganoush is everywhere but it's rarely satisfying if you've had the real thing. I was fortunate to have a Lebanese-American friend a while ago who took me into her grandmother's kitchen to learn a few of the traditional recipes. Born in Lebanon in the nineteenth century, "Situ" (grandmother, in Arabic) had learned to cook in her village in Lebanon – where there were no food processors and no bottles of tahini - and no measuring. The ingredients were set out – eggplant, sesame seeds, garlic and lemon – and the baba ganoush was assembled to taste.
We started by holding the eggplant over the gas flame on a serving fork, turning it this way and that until it was black and bursting. Meanwhile, Situ toasted the sesame seeds and then ground them into a paste with an ancient mortar and pestle. And then mixed and tasted and seasoned until it was pronounced to be finished. The result was a thick, chunky spread which presented a deeply complicated blending of smoky eggplant and nutty sesame, with bright notes of grarlic and lemon.
For a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate snack, I omit the added oil usually used and serve the baba ganoush with crisp carrot sticks, instead of the traditional pita wedges. Not only do you skip the carbs in the pita but also the narrow carrots help keep portions under control!
This recipe follows the traditional methods of toasting the sesame and cumin seeds before they are ground for use. Bottled tahini and commercial cumin powder may be substituted, of course, but the result is bland and clichéd compared to this method.
Yield 3/4 cup (12 one-tablespoon servings)
- 1/2 lb eggplant, halved lengthwise
- 4 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds* (or 2 tablespoons bottled tahini)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- juice of one lemon, plus more to taste if required
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted* and ground (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin)
- salt, hot sauce, to taste
- Minced cilantro for garnish (if desired)
1. Brush the eggplant with olive oil and grill over a hot fire, turning occasionally, until very tender and about to fall apart, around 20 - 25 minutes. (Alternatively, roast on a cookie sheet in a 400º oven, turning once, for about 25 - 30 minutes.) Allow to cool.
2. Pull the eggplant skin from the meat and discard. (I like to allow a few bits of the charred skin remain, for the smoky depth they contribute.) Chop the eggplant coarsely.
3. Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, pulverize the sesame seeds until it forms a paste.
4. Add the ground sesame seeds (or tahini, if using), the garlic, the lemon and the cumin to the eggplant and mix well.
5. Season to taste and add lemon juice, sparingly, if necessary.
*To toast seeds, place them dry in a small heavy skillet over high heat, stirring constantly. When they start to pop, remove them from the pan.