smoky eggplant dip

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Smoky Eggplant Dip [Moutabbal]
Adapted from David Lebovitz‘s My Paris Kitchen

One of the trickiest things, for me, about nailing down a recipe for this dip, that I called baba ganoush until about five minutes ago, is that everyone has a different idea of what the ideal might taste like. I like a lot of smoky char, tahini and lemon; I try not to overwhelm it with minced garlic, which gets much stronger after a day in the fridge. I like using olive oil to finish it, but not in the dip; I like parsley both mixed in and on top. A scattering of za’atar or toasted sesame seeds and sea salt are wonderful on top. Feel free to use this as a starter recipe and cooking technique, then tweak it to your tastes.

Finally, about the texture. So besotted I am with my new blender, I used it, but distracted, took David’s instructions quite literally to “blend until smooth” on Saturday night and within ten seconds, had made ba-ba-baby food. Which my friends, polite as they were, ate anyway. The next time I made it, photographed here, I just pulsed the mixture in little bursts, but it still became a touch too smooth for my tastes. Want to know what I’ll do from this day forward? Hand chop it. My mother-in-law does this with her eggplant caviar, and it’s the only way ensure that you get a lovely texture that’s not overly pureed.

Makes about 2 cups

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound each)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt, or to taste
6 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste), well-stirred if a new container
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste, if desired
Pinch of cayenne or aleppo pepper
Pinch or two of ground cumin
2 tablespoons well-chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
Toasted sesame seeds or za’atar for garnish

Heat oven to 375°F. Brush a baking sheet or roasting pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Prick eggplants a few times with a fork or tip of a knife. Over a gas flame, grill or under a broiler, evenly char the skin of your eggplants. I like mine quite smoky and like to leave no purple visible. Transfer to a cutting board, and when cool enough to handle, trim off stem and cut lengthwise. Place cut side down on prepared baking sheet and roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until very, very tender when pressed. Let cool to room temperature.

In a blender or food processor: Scrape eggplant flesh from skin and into the work bowl. Add tahini, lemon, cayenne, cumin and 1 tablespoon parsley. Blend in short bursts (pulses) until combined but still coarsely chopped.

By hand: Scrape eggplant flesh from skin and onto a cutting board. Finely chop the eggplant, leaving some bits closer to pea-sized. In a bowl, whisk together tahini, garlic, lemon, cayenne, cumin and half the parsley. Add chopped eggplant and stir to combine.

Both methods: Taste and adjust ingredients if needed. I usually need more salt and lemon.

To serve: Spoon into a bowl and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Scatter with second tablespoon of parsley, and some toasted sesame seeds or za’atar, if desired. Serve with pita wedges.

For a big delicious summer meal, you could serve this with a tomato-cucumber salad, ethereally smooth hummus and pita wedges. If you’d like to be fancy, grilled or pan-roasted lamb chops are wonderful here too. (I use this method, but just season them with salt, pepper, lemon zest and dried oregano these days. I finish them with a squeeze of lemon juice.)

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