“Very well, I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant.” -Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez in his celebrated examination of the complexities involved in matters of the heart, Love In The Time Of Cholera
At this time of year, those of us that seem to be under the spell of a constant and powerful magnet-beam emanating from the nearest kitchen (ahem) always seem to be drowning in a pile of bumper crops and giant discount bags of late-season harvests from the market and big bowls of produce we’ve brought indoors from the outdoors before our gardens go south for the winter.
And as each annual growing season gives way to harvest season, one can’t help but notice the gradually elevated interest in tomato sauce, in pickling, in jams, in canning…..in ways to stretch summer’s sleepy tendrils as far as possible into the colder months. That is, unless a giant, sniveling, evil monster bitch hurricane named Irene is forecasted to hurtle straight into your city and turn it into a zombie war apocalypse over the next 48 hours.
New Yorkers love to panic about this kind of thing, and what with the countless end-of-days films centered here, 9/11, the blackouts, the transit strike, the random Brooklyn tornado, the Snowpocalypse, and now this…..one might say we’ve got good reason to be a bit on edge about such ominous warnings. Grocery store shelves were wiped clear of water, candles, and bread in preparation. Bathtubs were filled. Evacuation orders were heeded.
Of course, those of us New Yorkers that aren’t in a state of full freakout are instead characteristically cynical about the whole thing. Yeah, we boarded up our windows, but dammit, we did it in style. We picked up some extra food, but mostly it was beef jerky and beer. And if you’re me, you pretty much just shrugged you shoulders, brought in all the salvageable produce from the garden outside, and decided to spend the weekend cooking with it in between bottles of Allagash White and old horror movies.
The bulk of what I was able to emergency harvest was a big bowl full of eggplant, in various varieties, shapes, and sizes. And when it comes to eggplants, there’s exactly zero things I’d rather do with them than make babaganouj. Smoky, creamy, and healthy, this popular Lebanese mezze is surprisingly complex given the ingredients and simple cooking techniques involved. Even if you’re not a fan of eggplant, I’d still recommend giving this dish a shot, because the eggplant really becomes something else entirely here. It completely loses it’s bitter edge and spongy texture, and it wears all of the other ingredients so perfectly that this is just one of those dishes that genuinely feels meant to be. Besides, I love just about anything that you can put on a piece of bread, a chip, or a cracker.
Luckily for most of us here in New York City, Irene turned out, of course, to be a bit of a tease. In other areas, though, people weren’t so lucky. Two of my favorite greenmarket purveyors, Evolutionary Organics and Bradley Farm (both located in New Paltz, New York), sustained extensive damage from flooding and lost a huge amount of plants and even a few animals. This, of course, amounts to devastating financial blows, and I encourage my readers to consider reaching out to them with donations if possible.
Roughly 1 lb. worth of eggplants, washed, dried, and stemmed (NOTE: This is about 1 medium regular “globe” eggplant, but for this recipe I used a mixture of several smaller varieties that I had growing in my garden.)
Neutrally-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola
1 medium clove garlic, washed, smashed, and peeled
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup Greek-style yogurt (NOTE: I used Fage brand.)
1 tsp. tahini
1/2 tsp. chile powder (NOTE: This is not a hot chile powder like cayenne, this is the more smoky version.)
1/4 tsp. cumin
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Small handful of pignoli (pine) nuts, dry toasted in a pan over medium-low heat until golden brown
Small handful of fresh parsley leaves, washed, dried well, and chopped well
Good quality extra-virgin olive oil
Ground sumac, for sprinkling (optional)
Other ideas for garnish:
1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
2. Leave the eggplant(s) whole, but prick them all over with a fork so that steam can escape. Using tongs, char the skin very well directly over a stovetop flame, turning as each side becomes fully charred. The time required will be variable depending on the size of the eggplants being used, and depending on how smoky you want the flavor to be. I would say this total process should take roughly 8-10 minutes.
3. Once eggplants are charred all over the outsides, reserve on a plate and allow to cool slightly. Prepare a small baking sheet by lining it with foil or parchment paper. Place the eggplants on the prepared baking sheet and give them a light coating of the neutral oil. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and roast the eggplants until very soft, about 20 minutes for small eggplants, and about 30 for larger ones. (NOTE: They are ready when they can be easily “collapsed” when pressure is applied.) Remove from oven and allow to cool.
4. Slice the eggplant(s) in half and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh. It will scoop out very easily. Discard the skins. Add the eggplant flesh, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, yogurt, tahini, chile powder, and cumin to a food processor fitted with the standard blade. Process the ingredients together until fully puréed but still with a bit of texture to it. Transfer to a non-reactive bowl and season to taste with salt & pepper. Stir well with a rubber spatula to combine everything thoroughly.
5. Spoon the mixture onto a serving plate (NOTE: I just used a standard salad plate.) and smooth out in a circular motion. Using the back of a spoon, create a “trough” around the center area. Drizzle this area with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle the plate with the toasted pine nuts, parsley, and sumac. Serve with pita, pita chips, or crudités.
Yield: Roughly 1 1/2 cupsPrinter Friendly