Let’s Cook Lebanese: Baba Ghanoush

“Baba Ghanoush” is a wonderful smoky, eggplant dip of Eastern Mediterranean origin. My favorite Greek & Lebanese Café serves a version of this dip which is just the best one you will ever find. It combines the flavors of smoky eggplant, tahini paste, lemon juice, fresh garlic plus a little salt to make a a creamy and smooth dip. There’s still time to make this dish with the last of summer’s eggplant in fresh produce markets. I decided to try see if I could duplicate Serop’s “Baba Ghanoush.” It is more difficult than you might think to properly marry all the ingredients and flavors. Although still different from Serop’s, my version is tastes great, too!

Baba Ghanoush – Secret Ingredient

I like to stop at Serop’s Express Café on my way home after working long 12-hour shifts as a nurse in a specialty hospital. I’m exhausted! (And, yes, I still have a part-time paid job.) With the cafeteria line arrangement at Serop’s Express, you simply pick out foods for a meal in just a few minutes and you have a relatively healthy supper. Vegetables, a salad, Chicken Shawarma and of course, Baba Ghanoush. Serop’s version of Baba Ghanoush is creamy and smoky with lots of garlic. I’ve tried to duplicate the recipe several times but just was missing something. What makes their version special? I finally asked. The eggplant is smoked on the grill — go figure — but Serop’s recipe also includes sour cream. This ingredient is not usually included in Baba Ghanoush recipes, but it seemed to make all the difference and to moderate the other flavors in the dish. I gave it a try and really liked the result! So let’s add sour cream — and in one version — I added Greek yogurt instead.

Recipe

This recipe has just a few ingredients and the dish is easy to make; but getting the flavors balanced isn’t quite as simple as it might seem. Too much garlic and, wow, that’s all you taste. But the dish would be missing a hallmark flavor without any garlic. Then there is the “smoky” flavor of this dish. Traditionally, eggplant slices are grilled over a open fire or gas grill, gas flame of the stove or broiled/roasted in a gas-fired oven. I don’t have a gas stove and am not planning to get out in our near 100-degree heat to roast an eggplant on a gas grill or charcoal grill. As a compromise, my solution was to bake the eggplant halves, face down on an oiled baking sheet, scoop out the pulp and add smoky flavored paprika to give a subtle smoky flavor.

The next obstacle was finding tahini paste. Tahini is made from ground sesame seeds and helps impart the characteristic flavor of “Baba Ghanoush.” I couldn’t locate tahini paste at several of my usual grocery stores. Tahini which I purchased at a Mediterranean market had the oil and sesame seeds separated into two layers. The sesame seeds made a hard paste which did not recombine even after inverting and stirring. I tried making my own tahini by browning sesame seeds in a frying pan and then grinding them. But I couldn’t grind the seeds in my food processor. Then, by luck, we found organic tahini in the “peanut butter” isle at Target — that all-American supermarket and retail store giant. This paste was smooth creamy and tasty. Great! A little paste goes a long way, so I’ll be able to make lots of Baba Ghanoush!

Recipe

So, with my two obstacles overcome, I’m ready to make Baba Ghanoush. I used two large eggplant — each one weighed one pound. (This made about 1-1/2 cup of cooked eggplant pulp.) I cut the eggplant in half, lengthwise and baked them with the cut side down on an oiled baking sheet in a 400 degree oven until the skin was blistered and the pulp was very soft. This took an hour with these large eggplant. To finish the recipe, I scooped out the pulp of the eggplant (discarding as many seeds as possible) and processed all the ingredients in a food processor just briefly; it adds to the character of the dish to leave a few chunks.

Other ingredients in this recipe are finely minced fresh garlic (how much you add depends on how you like garlic); lemon juice and salt. And you really need a little salt — otherwise the dish is very “flat.” I use the side of a large chef knife to mash the garlic cloves and easily remove the paper thin skin. Use a rocking motion to mince the garlic finely. I added tahini paste and sour cream to the dish. In one version I added Greek yogurt.

This makes a wonderful Mediterranean dip! I think that it really helps to chill the dip for several hours to combine flavors. However, it is often served at room temperature. So, bring the dip out of the refrigerator ahead of time and sprinkle on more smoked paprika. We get lots of pita bread from eating at our favorite Greek & Lebanese restaurant. This dip also goes well with all kinds of vegetable sticks. I think that I finally have the flavors balanced — not too much of any ingredient — you still taste the eggplant. It is a great recipe. My “Baba Ghanoush” won’t be the same as Serop’s, but that’s okay. Enjoy!

Baba Ghanoush

  • Servings: 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • Oil
  • 2 (1 lb) eggplants
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp tahini, stirred to recombine paste and oil layers
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely minced (or 2 medium garlic cloves)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika plus extra to sprinkle on at serving
  • Pita bread or vegetable sticks

Method and Steps:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with foil, generously oil.
  2. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise. Place cut side down on oiled baking sheet and bake in oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until skin is blistered and pulp is very soft. (Check by placing thumb on eggplant and pressing down.)
  3. Remove from oven and cool until eggplant can be handled. Turn over. Remove stem end. Scoop out pulp, discarding skin and as many seeds as possible.
  4. Transfer pulp in food processor bowl. Add sour cream, tahini, lemon juice minced garlic clove, salt and smoked paprika. Pulse several times to puree eggplant and combine ingredients until smooth; you may leave a few small chunks of eggplant and garlic.
  5. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate a few hours to combine flavors.
  6. Serve chilled or return to room temperature. Sprinkle on additional smoky paprika. Serve with pita bread or vegetables sticks.

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