Bābā ġanūj, baba ghannoush, baba ganouj…I’ve had trouble deciding how to write it’s name properly. Since it’s a pronunciation translation, I suspect they’re all correct. In any case, it’s the name that designs a meltingly soft-textured smoky aubergine dip in Syria and Palestine. Apparently, the same dish is named Muttabal Betinjan in the rest of Middle-Eastern countries. I read the reason for this was that the translation for it’s name was “flirtatious and vicious”, due to it’s texture. It was popular belief that if mothers fed their daughters with this dish they would acquire the same attributes and find a husband and keep him! But further research into the name has led me to a closer translation: “spoiled father”…meaning anyone who tries it will be spoiled by it’s incredible texture and how good it is!! So, please: BE SPOILED!
To me there are two keys to a good baba ganouj. The first and probably most important one is the SMOKY flavour…In order to get that, you have to use a cooking method that burns the skins completely to impart that smoked taste. Ideally you should cook the aubergine directly over hot embers. Otherwise, if you have gas hobs, directly over the flame. But, as at home I have neither, I’ve come up with the closest alternative that gives you excellent results: a hot, hot griddle! I’ve tried with the oven to it’s maximum setting, but it does not get the smoky flavour…But if you decide to do it this way, PIERCE the aubergine first (I also had an accident with this and the aubergine exploded after 40 minutes of roasting as if it were a bomb!).
Key number two is the texture. The ingredients have to be slowly blended with a mortar and pestle to obtain that characteristic melt-in your mouth texture. So, please, DO NOT use a blender or processor…If you haven’t got a mortar and pestle you could improvise with a potato masher, a bottle or simply with a fork…it will be much better, believe me!
Finally worth a mention, you obviously need to choose a good aubergine. Choose a firm aubergine that is shiny and has the skin intact, that is, no bruises or scratches. Usually smaller aubergines are better and have less seeds, so better go for two small ones than a huge one.
So, let’s get on with it!
(enough for just two small serving plates…so,make more!)
1 medium aubergine (the one I used was 350g, so use equivalent)
1 small garlic clove (or half of a medium one)
~30g Tahina paste (I use Al-Rahib, lebanese brand)
~10g of lemon juice (1.5 tsp)
~15g mild olive oil or a more neutral vegetable oil
pinch of salt (I use smoked salt to intensify the taste)
1 tbsp of parsley finely cut
a pinch of hot paprika
a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Preheat a griddle to a very high setting (in my induction the highest setting is 11 and I set it to 10….you want the skin to get charred, burnt to impart the flavour and the aubergine to cook and get butter soft inside).
Place your washed aubergine and keep turning it, as if it had 4 sides, once each side is completely charred. Mine took 1 hour…but I’ve done this in other hobs and it has taken less time, about 40 minutes. I think this induction once it warms it doesn’t keep heating to full power, it sort of maintains (if you understand what I mean). Anyway, check that your aubergine is almost burnt on all sides and that it is very soft to the touch. Don’t worry if the skin breaks and some juice starts coming off, it’s normal, it will (the only problem is the washing up later!)This is how mine looked…if your skin gets darker…better!
Place it over strainer as it will “bleed” it’s juices. I’ve got to tell you most people discard them, they say they are bitter juices. Well, I don’t agree, I think it’s a smoked elixir. I remove them to make a thicker dip, but I set them aside in case I want to make it runnier. So, if you like smoky, you’ll want to keep these…you could even add them to another dish to impart that flavour…Up to you!
Peel the aubergine making sure to scrape off all the meat attached to the skin…you can’t waste any of it! it’s full of flavour!look at the caramelised colour the meat gets.
In a mortar, place the clove of garlic and a bit of salt…like I said I use smoked salt. I have maldon, but any smoked salt is good…
Then, add your aubergine and mash it up. When it is a bit broken up, add the tahineh and integrate it. Add the squeeze of lemon juice and finally the oil. I use an olive oil that is not extra virgin because I don’t want anything that will hide the subtle smoked taste. If you have that is a mild flavour, use that, if not choose any more neutral vegetable oil…or you could even omit this step, but I think it adds texture. Now, taste it and adjust to your liking salt and lemon juice. It should look like this:
This one is quite well mashed up, if you prefer you can leave the aubergine a bit more chunky. As you like, both are delicious.
Now to serve just place a mountain on a dish and with a spoon spread it as to leave some grooves that will be filled with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add a pinch of chopped parsley in the middle or scatter to your liking and some hot or smoked paprika. It’s also good with a pinch of cumin powder. And get ready to get spoiled!
And please use one of these to not leave anything behind!