Baba Ghanoush

It happens every time I see an eggplant.

Whether it’s at the the grocery store or the Farmer’s Market, I’m always seduced by their dark, beautiful purple skin, their plump waistline and that sassy little hat they wear. My first impulse is always the same: “Buy it!”

You sexy thing!

You sexy thing!

Then there’s white eggplants. Even baby eggplants. Aww, so cute!

But when you get them home, then what? A lot of people, most I would argue, believe they don’t like eggplant. But that’s only because they don’t know what to do with one.

You can make ratatouille out of them. But no matter how you make it, French people will always say it’s not authentic. Am I right?!

How about eggplant parmesan? It’s made the same way as chicken parmesan or veal parmesan. That’s delicious, right? Bread just about anything with parmesan cheese, fry it, then cover it in tomato sauce and mozzarella and it’s going to taste great. Baseball cap parmesan would probably sell.

But that doesn’t capture the essence of the eggplant. What should eggplant taste like?

The answer may surprise you: Baba Ghanoush.

Baba Ghanoush (ba-buh guh-NOOSH) is a Middle Eastern appetizer made much the same way as hummus, except with roasted eggplant rather than chickpeas. Usually it is served chilled with pita bread or a Middle Eastern flatbread known as lavash.

Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ghanoush

It’s most often associated with Lebanese cuisine, but variations also can be found in Turkey, Greece, Egypt, even Pakistan. In Israel, it is sometimes made with mayonnaise.

“Baba” means “father” in Arabic. “Ghanoush” probably means eggplant, but I’m not 100 percent sure on that.

Baba Ghanoush, an excellent vegetarian dish, has a slightly sweet, smoky flavor. Eggplant itself has a neutral, mild flavor, so most of the flavorings come from the roasting and the other ingredients.

In my experience, most people are initially intimidated by Baba Ghanoush because it has a funny name and is too “weird”. Middle Eastern food? Eggplants? No, thanks!

But once they taste it, they will fall in love with the subtle, smooth flavor of Baba Ghanoush.

It’s also a very economical dish because eggplants — which are also known as aubergines and are native to India — are available and inexpensive almost year round. You get a lot for your money because they are nearly 100 percent edible and have a large amount of “meat”. You usually only need one, regardless of what you are making with it.

So bring something exotic to your next gathering. All we are saying is give Baba Ghanoush a chance!

Baba Ghanoush

1 large eggplant

TBS EVOO

1 clove garlic

2 TBS Tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F. Rub eggplant with EVOO, place on sheet pan, prick with fork a couple of times and roast until fully softened, about 25 minutes.

When cool, cut in half, scoop pulp into food processer and add tahini, lemon, garlic, parsley, and remaining EVOO. Pulse untl smooth. Season with S&P to taste.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes so flavors can meld. Mound into bowl, drizzle with a little additional EVO and garnish with parsley sprigs. Serve with pita bread cut into triangles or squares of lavash.

Do you have a recipe that initially intimidates people, but eventually wins them over? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Budget Cooking – Homage to Hummus

Traditionally, hummus is a Middle Eastern dip made from mashed chick peas, tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds), olive oil, garlic, honey and lemon. But really hummus is an easy and inexpensive way to show your friends or family that you are a culinary genius.

Almost everyone who has tried it loves hummus. It’s yummy, it’s fun because you eat it with your hands, and although it’s slightly exotic, it is also eminently approachable. It doesn’t taste at all weird. What I love about it is that it’s super easy to make, and you can add any flavors you want. You can even change out some of the key ingredients and it’s still amazing.

Hummus usually is served with flatbread, such as pita, or with fresh vegetables like celery or carrot sticks, or green or red pepper slices. It’s 100 percent natural and is high in iron and Vitamin C. It will stay fresh in your refrigerator for at least a couple of days. If the liquid starts to separate, just  give it a stir.

Bring it to a party and your friends will be amazed. Serve it at your family’s table, perhaps with grilled shish-kabobs and couscous, and they will be impressed how multi-cultural you are.

It’s easiest if you have a food processer, but you can make it in a blender, or people have been mashing it by hand for thousands of years. I prefer the food processer, though.

The main ingredients of hummus are available almost anywhere. Chick peas, also known as garbanzo beans, can be bought fresh, dried, canned or frozen. For me, canned is easiest and cheap. With a little searching, I can usually find them for $.75/can or less.

Tahini, or a beige-colored paste made out of ground sesame seeds, is available in a surprising number of mainstream chain grocery stores. A 12 oz jar – enough for several batches of hummus – is usually about $4.00, and will keep in your refrigerator for months. It tends to settle, however, so be prepared to stir it up if you haven’t used it in awhile.

Garlic, EVOO, honey and lemon, of course, are cheap and available year round anywhere. I’m going to give you the standard recipe, then some amazing variations. For bonus points, serve three or four different kinds of hummus at the same time.

Getting ready to make hummus

Getting ready to make hummus

Basic Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained (save the can)

¼ cup tahini

1-2 cloves garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

3 TBS EVOO

1 tsp honey

Salt and Pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne or a couple drops of hot sauce

Complicated? Not. Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Use the can from the chickpeas to pour a little tap water into the mixture as it blends (preserving any residual flavor) to thin the hummus out to a smooth consistency, about that of like cream of wheat.

That’s it. Transfer to an airtight container and let rest in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld. The hummus will also thicken a little during this time. Serve the pita whole and let your guests tear it up with their hands, or cut it  into wedges for a nice presentation.

For an extra visual pop, you can serve with a lemon wedge dipped in paprika (Hey, color!). I’ve also seen the hummus piped onto the plate to form a ring, forming a little pool in the middle, which is then filled with EVOO for dipping.

Okay, here are some cool variations:

Charring a red pepper

Charring a red pepper

Roasted Garlic Hummus – For a sweet, succulent hummus, use the same recipe as above, except substitute one head of roasted garlic for the raw garlic. For roasted head of garlic, cut off the top of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with EVOO, place inside foil and roast for about 35 minutes at 350F. Or alternately, peel all the cloves from a head of garlic and cook in a saucepan in a shallow pool of EVOO over a low flame for about 15 minutes or until light brown, stirring once or twice. This will fill your kitchen with sweet, nutty aroma. Also you can save the cooled leftover EVOO and use it as a garlic-infused oil in future recipes. Bonus points for also using it in the hummus.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus – For a brilliant-hued, nuanced variation, add a few slices of roasted red pepper to the recipe above. Jars of roasted red pepper are available in most chain supermarkets, and certainly in ethnic markets or produce stores. They are handy to have around and will keep in your refrigerator for several weeks. Or, if you are really ambitious, roast your own red peppers by placing fresh red bell peppers directly onto the flames of burners of your stove, turning them frequently until all sides are charred black. Then put into a small mixing bowl and cover immediately with plastic wrap. Allow them to cool, about 25 minutes, then use a paring knife to gently scrape off the charred skin, ribs and the seeds under cold running water.

Kalamata Olive Hummus – Add a handful of pitted, marinated kalamata olives to the recipe above for a great tasting variation. You will need to reduce the amount of salt in the recipe since kalamatas already are pretty salty. Don’t forget to take out the pits, very important. I buy marinated kalamatas at a local ethnic deli, and they are pretty inexpensive and delicious in salads or even to eat on their own.

This is one of those dishes where you can really make it pop with the plating. Try making the basic recipe, then divide it into thirds, then make 1/3 of the Roasted Red Pepper, and 1/3 of the Kalamata variations. Serve all three side-by-side in little bowls with any kind of garnish (a couple whole kalamatas work well), surrounded by the pita wedges
pointy-side up. Sprinkle a little paprika and green chopped parsley or cilantro over it and you got yourself a standing ovation at your next get-together.

I’ve also made this with white beans instead of chickpeas, a little French twist, served with toast points. Also very good. Bon appétit (That’s French)!

Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Kalamata Olive Hummus

Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Kalamata Olive Hummus