Baba ghanoush or baba ganush or ghannouj or ghannoug or however you want to spell it has always been one of my favorite foods to order at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern eateries. But it is so ridiculously easy to make at home. Even W likes it, and he hates eggplant in just about every other form. The concept of a preparation of roasted, mashed eggplant is ubiquitous across the Middle East and beyond, and it goes by many names, but baba ghanoush is probably the most famous in the States. The origins of the term baba ghanoush are unclear at best. In Arabic, the word baba is a term of endearment for a father, something like "daddy" in English, while ghanoush is an adjective denoting softness, both tangibly and emotionally. Some speculate that baba refers to eggplant's importance in Middle Eastern cuisine as the "father" of all vegetables, while ganoush refers to its creamy texture. Others, more poetic than I am, I guess, take it to mean something like "he is a spoiling daddy," as in we are being coddled in eating this dish. Another, more traditional interpretation is that is means "spoiled daddy" and is so named because a devoted daughter first prepared it to nourish her toothless, old father. Whatever you choose to believe, it's a delicious, wholesome snack or side dish.
You may notice that I chose to use toasted sesame seeds in lieu of tahini paste. For some reason, I find tahini to be an overwhelming, almost offensive flavor in a lot of recipes, so I opted for this substitution. It's also a lot easier to keep sesame seeds on hand and toast them up on the spot than it is to keep tahini paste. The flavor was fresh and wonderful, and the seeds imparted just the slightest bit of texture and crunch. Awesome.
I made this meal on a Sunday, which is my laundry day. I have posted the Mujaddara recipe before, and it's perfect for a busy day. All you have to do is caramelize some onions and pop everything in a slow cooker. You'll really be amazed at how much flavor is extracted from just a few humble ingredients. I assembled everything in my Crockpot in the morning and roasted my eggplant, then went about all my chores. To accompany my easy weekend meal, I just served some baby carrots and whole wheat pita for dipping.
(Roasted Eggplant Dip)
1 large Italian eggplant, or 3-4 smaller Japanese eggplants
Olive oil, for roasting
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 T. sesame seeds
1 T. chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan well with aluminum foil and lightly coat it with olive oil. (You want to be sure to use foil or use a non-reactive pan, or else you may ruin your pan. Ingredients like eggplant and tomatoes can be corrosive to metals.) Sprinkle the oil with salt and pepper.
Use a fork to prick the eggplant all over, then halve it lengthwise. Place the halves on the lined baking sheet, cut sides down. Drizzle the skins with olive oil and rub them to coat. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the flesh is tender and the skins have collapsed. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Use a large spoon to scoop out the flesh of the eggplant. Discard the skin (or munch on it, like I do!).
While the eggplant flesh cools, place the garlic cloves in a small, microwave-safe bowl and add enough water to cover. (Little Pyrex® custard dishes work nicely.) Microwave them on High for 1 minute, or until just boiling, then drain and set aside. Place the sesame seeds in a small skillet over medium to medium-low heat and toast them, stirring often, until just lightly golden and fragrant.
Add the roasted eggplant, blanched garlic, toasted sesame seeds and all remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Purée until smooth. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little water, about 1 teaspoon at a time, instead of adding more oil. Adjust the seasonings as needed and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with additional parsley or cilantro, and serve with pita and vegetables.