If you are one of what now seems to be the very few people stateside who has weather that permits you to walk from your back door to the grill:
God bless you. You are going to have a smokey baba gannouj of the best sort.
For the rest of us, there is second best. There is inside, at the stove. A gas flame, over which eggplant is carefully, slowly roasted, makes good baba.
Then there is yet another tier for those of us without gas flames, the way it was in my Sitto’s kitchen and still is in my mother’s: there is the broiler. Sitto reached in there with her incredibly adept fingers that met no heat they couldn’t take, and got her well-chosen (firm, not too wide) eggplant going. She flipped it barehanded; she pulled it out with the bare hands and sort of threw it onto the kitchen counter as if to say: Take that, you hot smokey eggplant. I am Sitto, and I am in charge.
This Sitto-strength, in a phrase, is what I aspire to every day.
Now, I can’t say that I’ll be watching football this Sunday, and not because I feel the need to be countercultural, but really just because watching football on television holds no interest for me. Basketball, ok. Tennis, fine. Football, and I’m face-planted in my laptop or a magazine or just stepped out of the room for a bit to take care of something in the kitchen (that lasts a few hours). Call me when the commercials are on.
But the food for the Superbowl that is taking over my online world this week, and yours too if you follow anything food, is fascinating and fun. I’d love to know who makes buffalo chicken wings at home, and then I’d like to get myself invited over.
Even though I may not care who wins the game (I can tell you who’s playing, I can: Broncos vs. Seahawks. Did I just do a quick search to be sure I was correct even though it’s been splashed across every news outlet for a couple of weeks, yes, but still), I care about joining the conversation about the occasion, and what is great to serve to your friends and family when they come over to watch–most especially, dips.
From my recipe coffers, try:
Baba Gannouj, smokey eggplant dip
Baba means father in Arabic (and I loved calling my dad that)—so just for the reference to Dad alone do I love baba gannouj, notwithstanding the fabulous flavor of roasted eggplant mashed up with tahini and lemon and garlic.
But also there is that strong memory of Sitto and her hot charred eggplant, her early message to me that seems befitting of anyone who sets out to be a winner, a message of control, of determination, of Sitto game-on.
Select eggplant that is very firm when squeezed, and fairly narrow, which often means fewer seeds. The bitter baba you may have had now and then is attributable to the cook not removing the seeds from the eggplant before mashing it up. Do that, and you’ll have a much different baba gannouj on your plate than you would otherwise. Use at least two eggplants, since removing the seeds reduces the amount of eggplant you have left to work with. Don’t skip the pomegranate seeds if at all possible; they add beautiful color to the dip and a delicious tart flavor too.
Char the eggplant by poking a few holes in them with a knife or skewer (so the skin won’t burst). Cook them on a hot barbecue, a low flame on the gas burner, or under the broiler. If you’re broiling the eggplant, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet a few inches under the broiler. Whatever the heat source, turn the eggplants over halfway through cooking (use tongs) to char them evenly. When the skin is blistered and the eggplant is very soft, remove them from the heat. Under the broiler this takes about 30 minutes.
When they are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off with your fingers and cut away the stem end. Open the eggplant and pull out the lines of seeds, and discard them.
Chop or mash the eggplant until it forms a dip-like texture. In a bowl, combine the eggplant with the tahini, salt, garlic, lemon juice, and black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings, then spoon the baba gannouj onto a plate. Make some swirls in the eggplant with the back of the spoon, and drizzle olive oil over the top. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, and serve with pita chips, crackers, vegetables.