Babaganoush

Babaganoush is a much maligned dish. What you buy in the supermarkets is inedible and what you get in most restaurants is merely dreadful, which is why you should make your own. It’s one of these things that’s not difficult to make, but needs a bit of finesse to make really great. The topping can be as simple as a drizzle of oil and few toasted nuts or fresh herbs. The secret is in the babaganoush itself. On top of that, it’s one thing that you can easily make all your own. You are not making “the original” babaganoush (I sure know I’m not), but the one that hits all the right buttons for you. So experiment and stun your guests (in a good way, if possible).

Serve your babaganoush with traditional Pita bread or with Khobz. My own recipe for both will follow in the next few days. Pita Bread Moroccan Flat Bread – Khobz

For the Babaganoush:
  • 3 long aubergines
  • 1-2 Tbsp tahini
  • 2-4 Tbsp crème fraîche
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • salt
  • black pepper

Keep your aubergine at room temperature. It will really make charring them a hell of a lot easier. Make sure they are dry, then empale them on a carving fork, or similar instrument, turn on the fire on your gas hob and slowly char the aubergine on all sides. This sounds easier than it is and you may need to use tongs to get to the last bits of aubergine once the thing has gone limp, which is what you want it to do.

If you don’t have a gas burner, you can roast the aubergines in the oven, setting the thing to the highest heat it will do or char them under a grill, or throw them on the barbie, or even into the coals. Once the aubergines are mostly black and blistered, put them on your chopping board and leave them to cool down and deflate.

Do not try to peel your charred aubergines. It’s so fiddly, you will probably give up halfway through the first one and throw the whole batch away. What you do is just cut them in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. You will probably still have bits of charred skin left on the flesh, but as long as these are just small occasional flakes, don’t worry too much about it.

Now chop the flesh as fine as you can and put it into a bowl. Chop your one small garlic clove very fine, then mash it with the flat side of your blade and chop it again. You should have a relatively fine paste. Add it to the chopped aubergine. Salt lightly, stir and add the first tablespoon of tahini. Stir and taste, then add the fist tablespoon of crème fraîche. Taste again. Now you need to decide what texture you want your babaganoush to have. There’s no right or wrong, so make is to your own taste. I add about 1 ½ tablespoon tahini and 2 or 3 tablespoons crème fraîche to mine, depending on how stiff the tahini is. I want my babaganoush to be chunky, but creamy with just a hint of tahini.

Finish your babaganoush off by adding the lemon juice and adjusting the seasoning. Do this carefully! The salt takes a while to dissolve due to the relatively high fat content of the thing, so add a little, stir, wait, taste, then add more. Add pepper, or even chilli flakes and resist the urge to eat it all.

Toppings

Restraint or Madness, the choice is yours and as long as you stay within the boundaries of good taste – literally – you’ll be fine. I would avoid anything that is not a vegetable, a root, a grain, nut or mineral. It is supposed to be a non meat, so bacon is pushing the envelope just a bit. As I said just a drizzle of good olive oil, a few freshly chopped herbs and you’re good to go, but if you are in the mood for something a little more interesting, here are 2 ideas for you:

Topping #1:
  • 4 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • ¼ tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp smoked paprika powder
  • 1 Tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste

Heat the olive oil together with the garlic on medium heat. As soon as the garlic starts to sizzle, turn the heat to low and stir the garlic until the edges start to brown. Turn off the heat and add the cumin and paprika. Stir for a minute, then add the chopped mint. Add a pinch of salt and reserve.

Once you are ready to serve, spread the babaganoush in a flattish serving plate and pour the oil over. Decorate with fresh mint leaves, if you like.

Topping #2:
  • 4 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thick
  • 1 Tbsp celery leaves, very roughly chopped
  • a pinch of salt

Heat the olive oil in a small pan or saucepan. Once it is hot, but not smoking, add the walnuts and fry them at medium heat until they have browned lightly and you can smell their aroma. Scoop them out of the oil and reserve. Reduce the heat to low and fry the garlic very slowly until it is light golden. Turn off the heat and take the pan off the fire. Keep stirring until the garlic is brown. Make sure the residual heat does not burn your garlic. Add the nuts back to the garlic oil, salt lightly and leave to stand for ten minutes before using. You can of course make this in advance and keep it at room temperature.

With you babaganoush in an attractive serving bowl, drizzle the oil over and decorate with the chopped celery leaves.

Topping #3:
  • 6 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 handful of rolled oats (not instant!)
  • 1-2 Tbsp  thinly sliced dried ancho chillies or other mild, sweet chillies
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped medium fine
  • a generous pinch of salt

This is actually the most difficult of all three toppings. It’s not the ingredients or system, it’s the timing that makes it hard to do. If you are not sure of your chef skills, fry everything separate and then recombine at the end, starting with the garlic, then the chillies and last the oats. Here’s how you do it in one go:

Heat the oil to medium high and toss in the oats. They will absorb a lit of oil, but try not to add any extra. Stir on medium high until the oats are quite a bit darker and seem to flowing a little freer in the pan. Now add the garlic. Keep stirring until the garlic is just starting to colour at the edges. Turn up the heat a little, toss in the chillies and stir for a minute. Pour into a bowl and stir to lower the heat a little. You’re done!

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