Fair warning, folks, this is an Evelyn post. Evelyn… you know, the non-cooking, non-farming third of OurLocaltopia. I coordinate a bit, and work the computer machines. As some of you know, my interest in local food has always been present, but I fall definitively into the eater category. That is, I’m a patron, a customer, an observer, a consumer… but never a maker, never a cook. Because, frankly, I am a cooking failure. My whole life has been plagued by botched attempts at even simple recipes. (A notorious family legend: I once made macaroni and cheese that, after swiftly being thrown in the trash, even the ants would not eat.) It is undoubtedly my utter lack of talent that drives my fascination with the culinary world. It is so far beyond my abilities, I am in awe of those who make it look easy (folks like The Jonathans, for instance). Knowing all this, you can imagine my surprise and, well, terror when last week, after arriving at Jonathan Dye’s home for a good ol’ fashion blogging session, he tasked me with making a dish.
The dish in question was a burnt eggplant and tahini spread (or dip), perfect to serve as an appetizer with flat bread. You will see similar dishes at Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurants referred to as Baba ghanoush. I am one of those pesky vegetarians, and so have plenty of eggplant eating experience. But given my above statements, it should be no surprise that I haven’t had much luck COOKING eggplant. Luckily, I was operating under the supreme tutelage of Mr. Dye and I can say that, with his help, I had one of the most positive cooking experiences of my life. That may be the star of Mr. Dye’s many talents; guiding the frightened and culinarily hopeless with a gentle but firm hand.
I started by blackening the eggplant on a grill. This is when the actual “burning” takes place, imbuing the eggplant with a wonderful smoked quality. (The largest eggplant “popped” about halfway through this process, but it was still good to go!) After letting the eggplant cool for a bit, I scooped the softened and smoked eggplant flesh out of its skin and collected said flesh in a colander. In the colander, I mixed and smashed it until it was a a thick, pasty texture… not unlike hummus. At this point, the eggplant was allowed to drain, while I prepped the rest of the ingredients: vegetables, spices, lemons juice, pomegranate molasses, tahini sauce and olive oil. A little chopping, a little squeezing and the elements were ready to be mixed together in a large bowl. The recipe suggests that the chopped vegetables are optional, but I would argue that they aren’t to be missed. I folded them in after combining the eggplant, tahini, spices and pomegranate molasses. (Tahini is a pretty common ingredient these days. Pick it up at most grocery stores. It is a paste made from sesame seeds.) At this point, I was surprised as anyone to discover that I was basically done! I transferred the spread into shallow dish and finished it off with a sprinkle of fresh pomegranate and unwrapped the flat bread. Ta-dah! A beautiful appetizer was born!
I felt compelled to report on this experience and recipe in hopes that it may give others like me, the cooking challenged, some inspiration. Don’t allow your previous failures hold you back, and let your friends offer support and advice. You may surprise yourself with the results!
Below is a photo gallery that will step you though the recipe, and then the recipe itself. Have a look, and try it out. It is incredibly delicious.
(Hint: Click on the pictures below for a larger view and captions!)
Burnt Eggplant with Tahini
Serve this extremely flavorful sauce with raw vegetables, flatbread or as an accompaniment to meat and fish. We love the idea of adding additional tomato and cucumber in larger cuts to produce a filling and healthy salad. This recipe is adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautifully illustrated vegetarian cookbook Plenty, Chronical Books 2010.
1 large eggplant
1/3 cup tahini paste
¼ cup water
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and black pepper
3 mini cucumbers (6 to 7 oz in total, optional)
¾ cup cherry tomatoes (optional)
seeds from ½ large pomegranate
a little olive oil to finish
- First, burn the eggplant on the grill or under your broiler. The eggplants should be over (or under) direct heat. It is alright to allow the flame to touch the skin. Turn frequently for 15 to 20 minutes, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Don’t allow them to catch fire! The eggplants are finished when the flesh is soft and yields no resistance. The eggplants should look entirely deflated and their skin should be burnt and broken. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the blackened skin. Leave to drain for at least 30 minutes.
- Chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the tahini, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper; mix well with a whisk. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more garlic, lemon juice, or molasses if needed. You want the salad to have a robust sour/slightly sweet flavor.
- If you want to add cucumber and tomatoes, cut the cucumbers lengthways in half and then each half lengthways in two. Cut each quarter into 3/8-inch-long pieces. Halve the tomatoes. Stir them and the cucumber into the eggplant mix. To serve, spread over a shallow dish, scatter the pomegranate seeds on top and drizzle with olive oil.