Baba Ganoush and Pita Chips
As a child in Italy, my mono-cultural upbringing and a much-isolated world, made it almost impossible for me to have a taste of cuisines of different countries, even those relatively close, like the ones from the Middle Eastern region.
It was with curiosity and trepidation that many years ago I went for the first time to a Lebanese restaurant in Brussels for a Mezze feast, just to be fulgurated by an array of flavors still unknown to my palate.
Fast forward a few years, and there I was, living in Israel thanks to my husband’s job, getting a much closer look at all the amazing Middle Eastern recipes.
Baba Ganoush was one of the revelations: spelling differs a lot from one place to the other, but the main flavors stay the same. A charbroiled eggplant, almost burnt, gives the typical taste to this dish, together with Tahini, a sesame paste (or to be more fashionable: sesame butter), very nutty and creamy.
This dish has but one big secret: let the eggplant cook until it looks wasted, skin blackened and burned. Only then will the flesh be cooked, and it will have acquired the typical smoky flavor. You will open the blackened skin just to find inside an intact, whitish pulp, ready to be spooned out.
I serve Baba Ganoush as an appetizer, together with some homemade pita bread chips. This last part is not really a recipe, just my take on pita bread, that has proven quite successful with my family and friends.
Tahini has some great nutritional properties but also some downsides. It is a very ancient recipe, used in the Middle East daily as a healthy and flavorful condiment. It is rich in copper, phosphorus, iron, and selenium, and helps fight inflammation; sesame seeds are rich in phytochemicals, that help lower cholesterol and might even be useful to fight hormone related cancers. On the other hand, sesame seeds contain a very small quantity of omega-6 fatty acid. Also, sesame seeds are tree nuts, thus provoking allergies in some people.
1 round eggplant
½ cup Tahini paste
2-3 cloves of garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper
For the Pita Chips:
1 bag Pita Bread, preferably whole wheat
EV Olive Oil
1. Turn on the oven at 450 F
2. Rinse and dry the eggplant, poke holes with an iron skewer to avoid that it explodes during cooking process. VERY IMPORTANT!
3. Place the eggplant on a baking dish lined with parchment paper, add the garlic cloves, and put in the oven.
4. Remove the garlic after half an hour.
5. Cook the eggplant for approximately one hour total, until the skin of the eggplant has become burned and black.
6. In the meantime: squeeze the cooked garlic and set aside; squeeze the lemon and set aside the juice; chop the parsley; measure ½ a cup of Tehini.
7. When the eggplant is cooked, remove from oven; carefully cut the skin open: steam will come out.
8. With the help of a spoon, remove the flesh of the eggplant, and put it in a sieve to drain excess liquid: help the process by gently squeezing the eggplant with the back of a spoon.
9. When the eggplant has cooled down a bit, pour the tahini and start squeezing with a fork, until when incorporated. Add garlic, salt and pepper, and last lemon juice. Use the fork to fold the ingredients, and to whip the whole mixture together.
10. Add the chopped parsley, transfer to a bowl, and serve with the pita chips.
1. Cut the pita bread in irregular triangles, bite size.
2. Drizzle with EV Olive Oil, adjust with salt, pepper, and oregano if desired.
3. Place in a baking sheet or 2, making sure that the chips are in one single layer.
4. Cook in the oven at 400F for approximately 8 minutes or until crispy.
5. Let them cool down before serving.
A Few Notes:
- Do not forget to poke holes in your eggplant before cooking!!
- You can also use the grill instead of the oven: keep the lid closed to accelerate the cooking process.
- Rule of thumb: when you think that your eggplant is cooked and ready to go, just leave it ten minutes longer in the oven
- Please never use a food processor: you would lose all the texture. Also, when you whip with a fork the Baba Ganoush becomes airy and fluffy, a bit like what happens with a mayo.
- You can add more spices following your taste. I personally prefer to keep it simple, as the taste of the Tahini and eggplant combined is already delicious.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.