Eggplant Experiment

I've never made baba ghanoush, the delicious Middle Eastern roasted eggplant dish, and I do not know how. But when I was in an experimenting mood recently and found myself drawn to a left over half-eggplant, I decided to wing it and see what kind of appetizer I could produce for Julia and myself.

The first thing I decided to do in order to make my baba ghanoush was roast this eggplant. I had most of a large eggplant – only the top third had been used already – and so I just halved and then quartered what was left. The remaining quarters were the perfect dimensions for the pieces I wanted to roast, so I then just went along each quarter and cut about three-quarter-inch thick chunks.

I wanted the roasting to impart a lot of flavor, so I dry rubbed the eggplant with a mixture of a pinch of kosher salt, a teaspoon of cracked black pepper and a tablespoon each of Middle Eastern spices sumac and za'atar (parts oregano, thyme, marjoram, sesame seeds and a couple other things). I wasn't too exact and upped the amount za'atar I'm pretty sure. Its flavor is so great, it's hard not to use a lot when you're working with it and smelling it. Using my two clean hands, I mixed/rubbed the spices in to my eggplant pieces in a bowl. I placed the eggplant on a baking sheet and then drizzled a little olive oil and red wine vinegar over the spice-encrusted pieces. With the two hands again, I mixed the pieces on the sheet so the oil and vinegar would be evenly distributed. I also halved and deseeded two tomatoes and quickly rubbed the four halves through the remaining spices and oil. I laid out the eggplant and tomato pieces on the sheet in a single layer so none were touching and placed it in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until the eggplant was crusty on the outside and the tomato soft and roasted.

When the eggplant pieces were roasted, I expected there to be moisture trapped inside, and to my delight, when I broke the crust of one piece, the inside was soft and moist. I almost went ahead and just served the chunks, but I wanted to go ahead with what I started. I dumped the eggplant and tomato into a bowl and added a little more oil and vinegar, probably about two teaspoons of each. I also scooped in about a quarter cup of nonfat Greek yogurt, another pinch of kosher salt and a third of a cup of sesame seeds. I then got my immersion blender and, starting on low, blended the mixture together. I only blended the mixture until it was mostly broken down – I didn't want it to be baby food. The moisture from the inside of the eggplant pieces helped to breakdown all of the elements and blend them nicely.

The consistency and color were great – it really looked like a baba ghanoush, well, a tomato baba ghanoush to be precise, as it was slightly pink. I served it with bread rounds and some feta cheese, and the taste was surprisingly awesome! Maybe not exactly a baba ghanoush but close and then some. Julia and I both thought there was a real zing to the flavor and it tasted deeper and more interesting than many baba ghanoushes out there. I like the sesame flavor matched with the za’atar’s punch, the sumac’s lemony vibe and the creaminess that the yogurt imparted. I was very happy with it, which is good, for as it made at least two cups of baba, we'll be eating it for at least a few more sittings. And I look forward to it. Experiment: success.

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