My first-ever experience with aubergine was the slap in the face handed out by the not-quite-done chunks of them in a pasta dish. Based on that, I just couldn’t figure out why anyone would like this rubbery, bitter vegetable and why a food hero like Ottolenghi devoted a whole cookbook chapter to the thing he called the glorious aubergine. Some years and culinary experience later, though, I’m completely converted to the aubergine-loving team. And the easiest way to show why, is to serve a spoonful of baba ganoush.
As it turns out, it takes nothing but a little time and attention to turn the springy flesh of aubergine into a sweet and seductive flavour bomb that you want to eat in one go without sharing. Baba ganoush is the classic Middle Eastern dip which brings out the best of this deep flavour by pairing it with just a few complementing ingredients: lemon and garlic. How much of each may vary considerably between the many recipes out there, ranging from a moderate spoonful of lemon juice to a whole lemon for each aubergine used and from one to up to six garlic cloves for a medium bowl of dip. Below you’ll find the recipe according to my personal taste: light on the garlic, heavy on the lemon juice. A spoonful of tahini for that extra earthy flavour, a sprinkling of herbs and a drizzle of olive oil and you’re in for food bliss.
The rather clean and easy way I use to turn the aubergines to full-flavoured creaminess is grilling them in the oven until the skins are completely charred and the fruits deflated. Mind the fact that different ovens can vary considerably in the time needed to achieve this, ranging from as little as 20 minutes to up to an hour. The first time I popped my aubergines under the grill and, faithfully following the instructions in a recipe, set the alarm for 60 minutes, by the time I opened my oven door they had desintegrated and crumbled under my hands as I took them out! A bit of a laugh and some experimenting later, I figured out that in my oven 20 minutes were quite enough to reach that desired creaminess, yet still have some aubergine flesh left to eat after the process. So if you’re about to make this dip for the first time, simply keep an eye out while your oven is doing its work and aim for that wrinkled, shrunken fruit.
Baba ganoush is best served with fresh flatbreads as part of a meze platter, but, combined with caramellised onions and grilled veggies, it also makes the most delicious topping for a full-flavoured vegan pizza. In any case, sharing is advisable, because if you do so, it will gain you friends for life.
Smoky and zesty baba ganoush – makes 1 medium-sized bowl
- 6 medium-sized aubergines
- 1 plump clove of garlic, finely chopped
- zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
- juice of 1½ lemon
- 1 tbsp. tahini
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 tbsp. each of shredded flat-leaf parsley and mint, to garnish
- 2 tbsp. pomegranate seeds, to garnish
- splash of olive oil, to drizzle
Heat the oven grill to high and line a baking sheet with aluminium foil (not baking parchment, as it will catch fire!).
Prick the aubergines with a fork in several places, to prevent them exploding in your oven as they turn hot. Put the aubergines on the baking sheet and place them directly under the grill. Grill the aubergines for 25-40 minutes, turning them once or twice with a pair of tongs, until they are completely collapsed and the skins are crisped up and charred all over.
Take them out of the oven, slit one of the skins to check if the flesh is soft all the way through, then leave to cool.
When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and put the aubergine flesh into a sieve placed over a bowl. Leave the flesh to drain in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight.
Chop the flesh with a knife for a chunky-textured dip, or whizz if you prefer yours completely smooth. Mix in the chopped garlic, the lemon zest and juice and the tahini. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve as a dip, drizzled with olive oil and scattered with the herbs and pomegranate seeds, or use as a topping for my flatbread pizzas with grilled veg and roasted chickpeas.