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From the Harvest: Eggplant

Eggplant has to be one of the most intimidating items at the supermarket. With its monolithic shape and Darth Vader coloring, eggplants are a mystery to many shoppers.

This fruit (yes, fruit) is named after the early varieties that propagated across America and resembled large white goose eggs. The standard purple variety resembles the French aubergine. While the purple and white varieties taste the same, the only place you will be able to find the white eggplants is at a farmers' market. Along with the white and purple eggplants, look for green varieties as well as multihued eggplants that also vary in length, width and shape. They're seasonal from the end of June until the end of October.

This recipe for baba ghanouj is a party favorite that takes no real culinary know-how. The hardest part is grilling or baking the eggplant. Grilling the eggplant is best because it imparts a smoky flavor, but baking or broiling in the oven works fine as well. The rest of the work is done in a food processor. This dip is a great example of eggplant's ability to become creamy and shows that its inherent bitterness does not need to be a barrier. The garlic, mint and lemon brighten the dish, while tahini (sesame seed butter) smooths out the eggplant's bite.

Tip: Baba ghanouj doesn't just have to be a dip. Use it as a spread on sandwiches, hamburgers or hotdogs. Spread it on a flat bread and top with crumbled feta cheese for a delicious pizza (it can be baked or served cold).

john@rouxde.com

Baba ghanouj

Serves 6-8

2 large eggplants

2 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/3 cup tahini

2 tsp kosher salt

1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves (about 35 leaves), roughly chopped

1/4 cup pistachios, broken into pieces

Extra-virgin olive oil

With a fork, poke holes all over the outside of the eggplants (this keeps them from bursting) and place over hot coals on the grill (or in an oven set to 375 degrees). Grill all sides of the eggplants until slightly charred, then move off direct heat of coals. Bake on the grill or in an oven until the eggplant is deflated-looking and soft (approximately 45 minutes). Let the eggplant cool to room temperature, then scrape the flesh out using a spoon or knife.

Transfer eggplant, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt and pepper to a food processor and blend until it is a smooth puree. Add the chopped mint and pulse the mixture 15 times in short bursts (less than a second long) to mix and finish chopping the mint. Transfer the baba ghanouj to a serving bowl and mix in half of the pistachios. Smooth the top of the mixture out and make a swirly design with your finger or a spoon (the indentations help evenly distribute the olive oil as well as prettying up a bowl of pureed eggplant) and top with a few good glugs of the olive oil.

Garnish with the rest of the pistachios and serve with pita, plain flatbreads or even tortilla chips.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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