I bought the eggplant from the farmers market with all the good intentions in the world. It was going to be part of a healthy dinner, cut up and lovingly sauteed with other vegetables. But for days the eggplant just languished there, staring back accusingly whenever I went to open the vegetable bin.
It would have been a crime to throw it out, so I finally just put in on a toaster oven tray and cooked it on high heat until it turned black and collapsed. I cut it open and scooped out the flesh. A little tahina sauce, a little lemon juice, a pinch of cumin, a bit of smoked paprika and salt, and I had Baba Ganoush.
I know, I know, Baba Ganoush calls for garlic. Well, that is the one thing I dislike about most Baba Ganoush, the overpowering hit of garlic. The tahina sauce that I had was leftover from take-out and it was already plenty garlic-ey. Mostly, I like Baba Ganoush to taste smoky and creamy.
Here is the really funny thing. Just a few days later I get a call with a story about how someone had an eggplant going south and threw half of it it in the toaster oven and mashed it up with garlic and lemon and olive oil. So Laura, he asks, how do I make something like Baba Ganoush with the other half? And can I leave out the tahina? And how do I get that smoky taste?
Well, I’m not sure that it is Baba Ganoush without the tahina, but there are other traditional eggplant salads that are basically eggplant, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. According to Claudia Roden (The Book of Jewish Food), the basic eggplant salad, popular all over the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean is grilled eggplant mashed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. She says the Syrian variation adds garlic and mint; the Moroccan version adds cumin and cayenne, the Israeli version adds chopped parsley, tomato, pepper, scallions, and chopped chili pepper; and Bukharan Jews add just garlic and salt.
There are many, many variations on this salad. Ghillie Basan’s book on Turkish cooking has an interesting version called Nazuktan, which is grilled eggplant, garlic, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, yogurt, chopped almonds, and mint.
The common denominator is grilled eggplant. The eggplant should ideally be roasted oven an open flame, but can also be broiled or cooked in a very hot oven. As the skin burns, it imparts a smokey flavor to the whole vegetable. At least that is the idea.
1 eggplant, roasted at 425 degrees until black, softened, and oozing juice (about 45 minutes)
2 Tbl. tahina
1 clove minced garlic
lemon juice, to taste
pinch smoked paprika, optional
Mash eggplant pulp (remove skin) with rest of ingredients.
Here is another idea from Basan’s Classic Turkish Cooking: Anadolu Patlican. Eggplants are baked in a hot oven for 15 minutes and then halved. The eggplant halves are returned to the oven, cut sides facing up, to bake another 20-25 minutes, or until the flesh is nicely softened. The eggplant tops are cut and mushed down to form a hollow, which is filled with a garlic-lemon-mint-yogurt mixture. Each person eats an eggplant half, scooping up the warm flesh with the icy-cold seasoned yogurt.