Here is another ode to the aubergine. A dip of roasted, smoky aubergine and tahini. When I first came across it, its greyish and lumpy appearance wasn’t the most appealing to be honest, but the taste soon won me over. In The New Book of Middle Eastern Food Claudia Roden describes baba ghanoush as “exciting and vulgarly seductive” – possibly one of the best compliments anything could have. People also make a version with mayonnaise, which I hate with a fiery passion. Somehow it transforms this wonder into a sweet, eggy sort of wallpaper paste.
There are infinite ways to make this, and this one is my favourite. And I really do love it. My flatmate Claudie just asked how long it keeps in the fridge, a perfectly valid question, but the answer is that it never lasts long enough for me to find out. According Jerusalem, there is apparently major disagreement as to whether proper baba should have tahini in it, or just olive oil. I am in the tahini camp.
I wrote in the miso aubergines post that I wasn’t sure how aubergines have become such a symbol of Jewish food – but I have done a tiny bit of research and of course Claudia Roden and Yotam Ottolenghi/ Sami Tamimi provide the answers. Apparently, while aubergines were brought to Spain and Italy by Arabs, Jewish people are credited for introducing them because they took them into the countries when fleeing various aggressors and moving and trading among the Arab Moorish and Christian cultures in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Ottolenghi/Tamimi writes in Jerusalem:
“Few ingredients have reached the level of veneration achieved by the humble aubergine or have found their way to almost every table in Jerusalem. Everybody loved to be associated with the aubergine – it’s like the local celebrity. The number of people who claim to have invented baba ghanoush, or at least elevated it to the level of fine food, is extraordinary.”
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed – you can either use these raw, or fry them slowly in olive oil until glossy and sweet
ground cumin – freshly toasted and ground if you have the time, this is however one of the few recipes where I give you permission to use the ready-ground
salt and pepper
handful chopped fresh parsley – optional but very tasty
Turn the oven to 190-200C
Prick the aubergines all over with a fork or sharp knife. Put them in the oven and bake for at least 45 mins. You can check on them after this time by pressing them gently with a fork or some other non-finger implement – they should have wrinkled and be soft to the touch. Depending on how hot/pre-heated the oven was, this could take a good hour. This would be a lot more authentic by the way if done on a barbeque. I wouldn’t recommend scorching them over a flame on the hob though – however fun it may be to stick a fork in a pepper and burn it over a flame (terrifying flatmates in the process), aubergines are just a bit too big. And the concept of covering your entire hob in foil and just leaving the aubergines on the rings for half an hour sounds a bit much. Leaving them alone in the oven is just easier.
Once the aubergine is soft and a little collapsed, allow it to cool until it can be handled – this is a hands-on messy bit. Putting the aubergines on a large plate or oven tray, carefully peel away the skin, reserving any flesh that comes away with it. Break the aubergine open a little to allow some of the excess water to drain away – you don’t want a watery baba! At this stage I also remove some of the big clumps of seeds – there is hardly any flesh on them and I just don’t think they are that good. Give whatever flesh is left a squeeze or shake to get rid of any remaining water, and chop the whole thing up – so that it goes a little pulpy in parts.
Add the chopped aubergine flesh to a big bowl with the tahini, garlic and parsley if using. Add about ½ teaspoon of cumin and ¼ teaspoon of the smoked paprika, a few spoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well and taste, adjusting the different seasonings to your liking. I like it with a lot of lemon, and sometimes also a little bit of hot chilli powder or cayenne pepper.
I love it with pita, quickly warmed in the toaster – so that the edges are a little charred, but it is warm and soft in the middle. Apparently it goes very well with rye crackers too.
** Tahini: I used to buy this in little jars from health food stores or supermarkets, but over the past few years I have become so addicted to it that I now buy it in 1kilo plastic tubs from local Middle-Eastern stores. I use it whenever I make humous, baba, as a dressing for salads, roasted fish or meat, or as a dip in its own right. I always turn it into a sauce first – when using the paste ‘neat’ it has too cement-y a texture.
*BREAKING GEFILTEFEST NEWS* For next year's festival, there will be two new awards, 'The Gefiltefest Jewish Cookbook Awards'. One will be a public poll for the best English language cookbook, and there will be a panel of expert judges giving a separate award. Any publisher is welcome to submit books relating to any aspect of Jewish food, as long as they are published between May 2012 and May 2013.