Ambrosia is an often overused word, hastily thrown around with levity to elevate the status of a particular food. It’s a very serious word (to me, anyway) which means ‘food of the gods’, and religious denominations aside I try to be reserved in it’s use simply out of respect.
So, it’s with a certain amount of reticence that I’m considering using it in the description here. Baba Ghanoush, Mutabal or Moutabal, are some of the different names this aubergine dip goes under, with slight regional variations in both method and ingredients depending on where abouts in the world it is being made. It originates from the Middle East and I came to know it through multiplus trips to Lebanese restaurants when my girlfriend and I had just started going out.
As a cook, it’s a delightfully refreshing dish to make, because I have never, ever, had anyone say “Hmmmm, I don’t really feel like eating any baba ghanoush today”, or “Ugh, that stuff’s gross”. In fact, whatever the day of the week, whatever the month of the year, if I make some Baba Ghanoush, there will just be “oooohhh” and “mmmmmmmm” noises when it’s brought out, even if we’ve already got a full meal in front of us.
I’ve tried quite a few variations of this dish over the last few years. From simple versions to heavily spiced versions and I come back each time to a simple recipe, but with one fundamental rule. It is imperative to heavily char your aubergine.
The essence of this dish to me is the smooth, smokey flavoured aubergine and without getting some heavily burnt aubergine skin, you just don’t get it. There are a lot of recipes that suggest making baba ghanoush indoors using an oven, or charring the aubergines over an open flame on your cooker. Forget both of those, as you’ll either miss that flavour altogehter, or it will take so long and you’ll make so much mess that you won’t want to make it ever again.
The only way to get the desired result is to fire up the BBQ.
Because the other thing with Baba Ghanoush, is that it’s so mouth wateringly desirable, you need to make quite a lot. Charring individual aubergines over an open flame in your kitchen will take eternity if you are doing more than one aubergine.
You need to get your BBQ running nice and hot, then put the aubergines on there for 20 minutes, rotating 90º every 5 minutes. You want them to look like you’ve utterly decimated them, collapsed, burnt, split and falling apart. If you think they still look OK, then you’ve not cooked them enough. They should look like ruined aubergines with every last bit of structure destroyed. Then, you’re getting somewhere.
After that, the rest is very, very simple and incredibly easy to put together with just a few ingredients. It’s also a dish that benefits from a rest while the flavours meld, so making it a few hours, or a day in advance is a good idea.
Now that the sun is sneaking through the clouds and casting a gentle warmth upon our poor Vitamin D deprived skin, it’s a great time to try it, if only for an excuse to spend 20 peaceful minutes sitting in the garden with the BBQ and a paper, turning the aubergines. So, my brothers and sisters, with earnest gravity I present you the ambrosia that is Baba Ghanoush.
By Gavin Wren
Serves 4 as a side/starter dip
Uses a BBQ
Around 900g aubergine (About 3 medium or 2 large)
1 large garlic clove, crushed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons tahini
A pinch of salt
A handful of pomegranate seeds
Flat bread or crudités (red pepper or cucumber work well)
Auberinge purchasing tips.Good aubergines are firm skinned, not soft, they should feel quite heavy in the hand and have a bright, shiny skin with a fresh, green top. You will find a lot of variation in quality and lower quality aubergines will often expel a lot more liquid during and after cooking.
Remove the aubergines from the grill, and place in a sieve or colander above a bowl. Leave for 30 mintues to cool and for any remainging juice to flow out.
When cooled, slice the aubergine lengthways, then using the back edge of the knife, scrape all of the flesh out of the aubergine and place in a mixing bowl. Pay particular attention to the darker brown flesh that’s directly on the inside of the skin. Try to avoid taking the black skin with it, although a tiny bit doesn’t matter.
Once all removed, add the garlic, lemon juice, tahini and salt to the aubergine and mix well. Serve, drizzled with olive oil and scattered with pomegranate seeds, and some flat bread or crudités on the side.