If you know me at all you have probably heard that I do not like eggplant. These are strong words, because with adequate salt, I really honestly do enjoy almost all food. But having nearly no taste of its own and the texture of either a stiff sponge or a gooey mess, depending on how it is cooked, eggplant does not win me over.
Eggplant in the garden, however, is a completely different story. I've seen them in Nigel Slater's and Stephanie Alexander's books (see aubergine) and in seed catalogs - photos of gloriously glowing purple, pink and white gems, dangling out of a mass of verdant green. With lavender and white flowers that have tiny yellow centers, and a soft fuzz over much of the stem, they are really delightful. This summer I was excited to discover some in my mother's garden, thin opalescent tubes that somehow managed to beat the Tucson heat, hiding under their sheltering leaves and a bit of shade cloth. I wonder if either she or the javelina have eaten them yet.
So each summer, when our produce box is overflowing with these purple beauties, I seek out new recipes and try to love eggplant. I wish could justify planting them in my own garden, but in addition to not wanting to eat them, I know they would suffer a cold and foggy death just like my tomatoes.
This year's big win has been baba ghanoush. The Lebanese were onto something when they roasted their eggplants over an open flame - smokey flavor goes a long way on a vegetable with none of its own. So while you can certainly roast yours in the oven, I prefer a charcoal grill. Not only does it taste better, but if you are lucky enough to have a spouse who likes to escape the house and hang out in the yard with a beer, you can probably share the load and pass the roasting on to him (or her).
Serve it with pita chips at the school picnic, or plain old pitas for a more discerning crowd. You'll not only impress them with your cooking skills, but you'll get the eggplants out of the house. Enjoy!
Thanks to my husband, who researched this recipe and has made several large batches of it for me.
1 large eggplant (double this recipe for a crowd)
1/4 cup tahini
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Pimentón (aka Spanish Paprika)
1 Tablespoon olive oil>
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Prepare your grill, you'll want it medium hot, whatever that means. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Poke the eggplant with a fork a few times so that it doesn't explode and place on the grill 5 inches or so above the fire. Grill, turning often, until the skin blackens and blisters and the flesh begins to feel soft, 10-15 minutes.
Put the eggplant on a baking sheet and into the oven. Bake 15-20 minutes until it is very soft. Remove it from the oven, let it cool so that you can peel off the skin and put the insides into a bowl. With a fork, mash the eggplant to a paste. Add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin and Pimentón, mix well. Season with salt, then add more lemon juice, tahini or salt until it tastes good.
Transfer to a serving bowl, smooth the top and pat a small well in it, then drizzle the olive oil on top and sprinkle with parsley. Serve at room temperature.