The deep purple hue and voluptuous shape of eggplant put it in the upper echelons of truly gorgeous produce. Of course, this time of year, there’s plenty of competition everywhere you turn at the farmer’s market. But purple is the color of royalty, and the Lebanese bow down to the eggplant accordingly, making it the crowned prince of many succulent dishes.

Eggplant seems to beg to be charred, taking on a cloak of smokey flavor readily. Perhaps the most well-known Middle Eastern dish using charred eggplant is babaganouj, a silky, smokey dip that pairs perfectly with fresh vegetables, bruschetta, or pita chips.

A showstopper of a meal is a baked Lebanese eggplant dish with tomato, ground beef or lamb, and buttery pine nuts. I can’t wait for you to try this Sheik al Mehshee (eggplant “fit for a king”), and swoon. So go get your eggplant at the farm market as soon as you can. They are splendid right now. Larger eggplant is good for babaganouj. I go for smaller, narrower ones otherwise. There are fewer seeds, which equates to better flavor.

Coming up this week: a story, techniques, recipes, and photos for Sheik al Mehshee.

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