Baba ghanoush (or baba ghanouj/i) is a creamy eggplant and tahini dip sharpened with lemon and garlic, originating in Lebanon. The eggplant is first charred in hot ashes, or in flames, which gives the dip a deeply smoky flavour which suits the eggplant’s rich flesh. Not many of us have a wood fire burning at the ready, but you can get a good effect by charring the eggplant in the flames of a gas ring or over a gas barbecue grill.
1 large (about 400g / 14 oz) eggplant (aubergine) 1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with a little sea salt ½ tsp flaky sea salt, or to taste ⅓ cup tahini paste (sesame paste) 2 Tbsp lemon juice 1-2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling Optional extras: plain unsweetened yoghurt, toasted sesame seeds or pine nuts to sprinkle over, or sumac or smoked paprika for dusting the top
1 Wash and dry eggplant and prick all over with a fine skewer to prevent it bursting during cooking. If you use gas for cooking, or a gas barbecue, place the eggplant in the flames of the gas and cook until blackened all over, turning with tongs. If the eggplant is not totally tender, transfer it to a hot oven to finish off cooking until tender. Cool.
2 Cut eggplant in half, pour off excess liquid and scoop out all the pulp, discarding flecks of blackened skin as these will impart a burnt flavour (you don’t have to be a total fuss-bum – a few small flecks will be fine, adding a hint of bitterness for interest). Chop pulp finely, then let excess liquid drain away for 10 minutes or so. Transfer pulp to a bowl. Add garlic, salt and tahini paste. Beat to a smooth purée with a wooden spoon, then blend in lemon juice and most of the parsley. Cover and refrigerate until required.
3 Baba ghanoush can be made 1-2 days before serving. Taste before serving, adding more salt or lemon if required. To make the baba ghanoush creamier, whip in 1-2 tablespoons of unsweetened plain yoghurt. Finish off the dip with a puddle of extra virgin olive oil and a little parsley, or with optional extras (toasted sesame seeds or pine nuts, and/or a dusting of sumac or paprika).
Maximum smokiness is created by cooking eggplants right in a gas flame, either a gas element in the kitchen or a barbecue grill, or in hot ashes of an open fire. In the pics here I cooked the eggplant on a small Weber barbecue which suspends the eggplant quite high above the flames and while it develops some smokiness, it is not as pronounced as when flames are actually singeing the skin.
If you don’t have access to a gas grill, barbecue or open fire, the eggplants can be roasted in the oven. The skin will blacken a little and they will collapse and soften and produce creamy flesh, but the finished dip won’t have the full smoky flavour as the flames haven’t singed the skin and driven in the smokiness. You can enhance the smoky flavour with a little smoked paprika – it’s not traditional, but it tastes good!
Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Put eggplant on oven rack, placing a sheet of tin foil underneath to catch any drips, and cook for about 25 minutes, or until very tender. If the eggplant you have is very fat, cut in half lengthways, rub with oil and cook it cut side down on a shallow tray lined with baking (parchment) paper. Remove eggplant from oven and cool.
Serve with pita crisps or flatbreads, olives, tomatoes and meze dishes. Baba ghanoush is also excellent in layered sandwiches (as you would use hummus or mashed avocado), in all-vegetable burgers, or as a base for slow-cooked lamb or with skewered lamb or chicken.