Monday, February 9, 2009

Baba Ghanouj

Andrew here again.
I tried to post this several times over the weekend, but it wouldn't let me, so here's hoping. I'd also ask if people do try out these recipes to post your thoughts/reactions, as well as any varients you try out that might be interesting, I'd love to read 'em.

Serves: Generous 2 or cheap 4.

You decide that it is time that some really nice Baba Ghanouj should be made. You look up a few recipes and hit your first wall. Most of the recipes are pretty similar, world-round. But there are a few important distinguishing features. Do you add yogurt? Should you squeeze fluid out of the eggplant after cooking it? Should you cook all the ingredients, then blend them together, or add the garlic and such to the eggplant raw? Does it take a half hour or a full hour to cook an eggplant?

Well, fuck it, you decide. Baba Ghanouj is pretty straightforward any which way. Poke holes into eggplant, stick into oven to cook. Take goo out. Add lots of garlic, lemon, and onion. Let sit. Eat.

With that in mind, you decide to head to your local supermarket to buy supplies, since you already have a few of them, but need just one or two items...


Olive Oil
Lemons 1-2
Eggplant 1 (medium)
Italian Parsely (some)
Garlic 5 cloves
Onion 2 (medium, or 1 large)
Tahini- a couple of tablespoons, or 1 packet of sesame seeds (1.5 oz)
Bread (optional), preferably nice freshly baked pita.

If you lived in a civilized area, this would be a quick 10-15 minutes. But no, no your local supermarket is in Harlem. Where you spend a solid hour roaming the aisles searching for tahini, or sesame paste, or whatever the fuck these hispanics call it. Finally, swearing, you declare that no goddamned supermarket is going to get the better of you, and buy a couple of small bags of sesame seeds, and announce that you'll make your own damned tahini. And they don't have pita bread? Fuck 'em. You'll get some nice bread and eat it on that, even though you know in your heart it won't be the same.

Get home later. Get all your ingredients together. Take a medium sized eggplant and a fork and try to poke holes in it. Discover that your forks are apparently so dull that they cannot actually pierce the skin of an eggplant. In disbelief, attempt to do so a few more times to no avail. Drop the fork. Pick up a knife. Repeat procedure. Ahhh, there we go. Cover it in aluminum foil, and stick into oven. Meantime assemble the rest of the stuff.

Dice an onion into fairly small pieces. Take three cloves of garlic, cut the ends off and chuck ‘em. Now take the trimmed garlic cloves and crush them beneath your cleaver as you will crush your enemies once your world domination plans come to fruition. Dice these fairly small. Look at the size of the pile and decide that you want more garlic so cut off the tops and bottoms of two more cloves and crush them too beneath your cleaver, as you shall soon crush that meddling hero beneath your heel, the insect.

Wonder to yourself if cooks get smelly garlic fingers and if there’s some secret. People say lemon juice but you’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for shit. Wonder why cooks never seem to get food stuck halfway up their knives, but instead it always falls back to the cutting board. You need a new cutting board.

Pour about this much olive oil into a pan. That’s the last of that bottle of olive oil.

Dump in your garlic, and stir a little it. In a couple of minutes, the garlic will start sizzling nicely. You add the onions and mix it too. While this cooks, you give it an occasional stir and decide to address the whole tahini problem. Take random mortar sitting around and large bowl. Pour sesame seeds into bowl.

You know that if you just add the seeds, it won’t work, that you want crushed seeds which add their meat to the food, not seeds to stick in people’s teeth. So you decide to crush them like…something that needs crushing. Pick up mortal. Mortar away.

1 minute later give it up. This isn’t going to work and you know it. But what to do? Your eye falls on your cleaver. Well if it worked for the garlic… Spread the sesame seeds out on the cutting board in a fairly thin layer. With the cleaver you crush them a little bit at a time. That worked well but not enough….Start chopping the shit out of the seeds. That seems to work pretty nicely.

Chop them until you are satisfied, then add them to the pan. Stir around for a little while.

Hey, this seems to be working. Be pleased with yourself and pat yourself on the back, congratulating yourself on a job well done and a clever solution to this mystery. You get a Scooby snack!

Take a lemon. Roll it on the counter a little bit. Cut in half and squeeze the juice into your pan. Gee, that looks good. Well, what the hell. Squeeze the other half in too. Stir around some more. Appreciate the smell.

Grab some Italian parsley. Chop a little and add about this much:

Put aside a little more to chop later to add fresh to your baba ghanouj. Stir for only a minute or two, then shut off heat. It should look something like this, and your parsley should still be fairly aromatic.

Check the time. Yup, it’s been about a half hour. Should you take out the eggplant? Is it done? How can you tell if it’s done? If it isn’t done, can you stick it back in the oven? Decide to wait another 15 minutes in compromise between the ½ hour and the hour camps. Go online and read online comics for 15 minutes, smelling everything happily.

15 minutes later, take it out. Looks brown instead of purple now.

You slice it open, hoping it won’t explode. Well, that was underwhelming.

You begin to scoop out the insides. Mostly it is fairly soft, but towards the skin it gets stiffer. You panic about what to do, but shrug and accept it. Next time, you make a mental note, cook the thing for a full hour. You recall one recipe called for squeezing out all the hot water and suggested you taste the juice and see why, claiming it to be biter. Having not seen this recommendation in any other recipe but curious, you taste the water. It doesn’t really taste like anything, but there is an awful lot of it and you don’t want to make a soup, so you put some paper towels around the pieces and squish them a little to push out some of the excess juice.

You pull out ye olde food processor. Start her up and put the eggplant in, pulsing.

You add in the garlic/onion stuff. Pulse that in a little more. Add this much parsley:

Question whether or not maybe you should add raw garlic or onion, it might be nice to be slightly more pungent, but decide not to. Roll another lemon and slice it in half and squeeze both sides in. Process until homogenous. You taste it. It’s okay. You decide to stick it in the fridge for an hour so the flavors have a chance to meld.

15 minutes later your fiancĂ© arrives starving and insists on eating half of it NOW. Shrug and serve it, lukewarm. It tastes very nice, you think. The consistency is likely due to the ends of the eggplant not being fully cooked, so it isn’t as gooey as you are used to- though that isn’t bad. It tastes really nice and that fresh Italian parsley gives it a nice garden fresh taste. Maybe next time giving the flavors a chance to meld would be a good idea. You serve it with whole-wheat buttered ciabatta bread and it tastes good. You realize you forgot the yoghurt, but decide it is nice the way it is and enjoy. Your fiancĂ© delivers a happy verdict but thinks there is a little bit too much lemon. For those of you who like lemon, use two lemons as described. For people who don’t like as much, try one and a half (only use the half at the end, not the whole at the end and the half in the cooking.)


Barb said...

Sounds good. I would not use the yogurt - it will change the texture and flavor and make it some other strange thing, not baba ganouj.

The eggplant does need long cooking. This will make it soft all over so that you can scrap it from the skin with a spoon - actually, you can just pull the skin off if it's thoroughly cooked. The liquid issue is real but its a depends on. This is because there are male and female eggplants. One has bitter juices and one doesn't. I don't remember which. But this is why eggplant parmigiana sometimes seems to have a really odd/weird taste - sort of bitter. Hey, it's the wrong kind of eggplant, then.

Anyway, it's worth draining the eggplant.

It does need at least an hour for the flavors to develop, preferably several hours. I much prefer to eat it cold.

I've never cooked the onions and garlick before - always just minced finely and added raw. But the gentle saute sounds much better so I will try it that way next time.

Broklynite said...

I love garlic and onion, but I don't want to bite into a chunk of it and have the flavor overwhelm whatever is in my mouth, so I did the saute. That let me add a lot more but have a more mellow flavor. It worked out nicely enough, I thought. I didn't know about the male/female thing. That is some excellent advice, thanks. I didn't mention this time, but I did end up just peeling the skin off of the second half without too much trouble. Yah, I wanted to give it time to have the flavors mingle, but I didn't really have much choice about it ;)

Asti said...

The bitter thing with eggplants is no longer such an issue due to the way that they have been grown/developed in the last decade or so. I remember when I used to have to salt the slices then wash before making parmigian but that is no longer necessary.