I wasn’t always a big fan of aubergines. As a child, I viewed this vegetable rather suspiciously. Its taste was too complex and in my family, it usually made an appearance alongside zucchinis and tomatoes in what later I learned to recognise as ratatouille – a dish I seldom find appetising. But then I grew older, and smarter too, and before I knew it aubergines had won my heart. This passion developed into nothing less than eternal love once I got acquainted with the strangely named dish Baba Ganoush.
It is all a matter of synergy. The main ingredients of Baba Ganoush are in and of themselves pure joy. In addition to the scrumptious aubergine comes the heavenly Tahini, transforming the duo into a palate delight, with the help of a hefty dose of garlic (which means the dish is better consumed together by all members of the household, lest whiffs of garlicky breaths bring discord and dispute).
Some might find this enthusiasm a bit exaggerated. After all this is no haute cuisine. But like Moussaka and Tabbouleh, Baba Ganoush could provide an additional proof that the secret of culinary greatness resides in the simplicity of the sauce.
Finally, the widespread adaptation of the dish throughout the Middle East and the neighbouring countries can surely bring to the right path those of little faith. Baba Ganoush has pleased enthusiastic eaters for centuries; from the green hills of Lebanon to the deserts of Egypt; and from the seashores of Greece to the highlands of Armenia. Granted, each culture has its own version, some more successful than others – in Israel, for instance, some replace the Tahini with mayonnaise, which in my opinion completely misses the point – but this is merely a proof of the dish’s inspirational success.
Getting down to business
6 garlic cloves
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1/3 cup lemon juice
Salt, to taste
A bunch of parsley or coriander leaves, thinly chopped.
1. Wash and char the aubergines one by one, on the stove’s open, high flames, till thoroughly tender on all sides. Some recipes call for frying or baking the aubergine in the oven, but this is heresy. Broiling the aubergine on an open fire gives it the special, smoky taste that makes the greatness of the Baba Ganoush. If you fear the mess to your stove, line it with aluminium foil. Otherwise, be ready to settle for compromise. And if you really want to get the most of the smokiness, char the aubergines for at least 10 to 15 minutes, and then set aside to cool.
2. After the aubergines have cooled, half them and scoop out the aubergine flesh (preferably with a wooden or a plastic utensil, as metal would blacken the aubergine flesh and alter its flavour). If some of the aubergines’ black skin sticks to the flesh don’t fret – it’s only for the best and your palate will thank you for it, but don’t get carried away and leave too much of it, or your whole dish will taste of burnt aubergine skin. Mash it and let it sit in a colander for a while, to drain the fluids.
3. Mix together in a serving bowl the aubergine flesh with the crashed garlic cloves, the raw Tahini, the lemon juice and the salt. Stir together, taste, and adjust seasoning.
4. Before serving, top with olive oil and the minced herbs.
Since the recipe varies from one region to another, feel free to do the same and experiment, replacing some of the Tahini with yogurt, adding spring onion, or toasted cumin seeds. Another tradition is to add pomegranate seeds or pomegranate molasses on top of the dish, for an added sweet-sour tang.
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