The Genie of the Dish
It had me right from the name. Baba ganoush. There’s something impossibly magical about it. “Baba” conjures to mind Ali Baba – “ganoush” sounds like “whoosh” – its name is like a genie – a mystical and wondrous thing emerging from the smoke. Its taste is too.
It’s the smoky flavour, caused by blackening the skin of the aubergene, that for me is the enchantment of this dish. The alchemy of combining the tastes of grassy aubergine, smoke, nutty tahini and the acid of the lemon juice creates an elixir that in France is called, without exaggeration, “caviar d’aubergene”.
The spiritual connection with caviar has lead me in the past to serve this dish on blinis, with great sucess. And because I already having a barbecue going to blacken the aubergine, I like to roast some peppers as well and serve them with the baba ganoush. Mischiveously, the peppers do a bit of a disappearing act when you char them, so do three times as many as you think you’re going to need. They keep well anyway, in the fridge, under a slick of olive oil.
Serve with flatbread to dip or on blinis. You can also use as a side dish for grilled chicken or lamb. Or, do what I do; keep a big bowl of baba ganoush in the fridge, and dip into it anything that’s less runny than it is. Including fingers.
Baba Ganoush with Roasted Red Peppers
For the Roasted Red Peppers:
- 5+ ramiro peppers (or bell peppers, but ramiro peppers have more flavour)
- Olive oil
- Pinch of good quality salt (eg Maldon)
Blacken the peppers over a direct heat on a barbecue, directly over a gas flame or under the grill. Keep turning them until the skin blisters and is black and burnt all over.
Take the peppers off and allow to cool. When they cold enough to handle, peel off the burnt skin. Trim the tops off the peppers and scoop out the seedy core. Cut or tear the peppers into strips, dress with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt.
For the Baba Ganoush
- 3 aubergines (bigger is better – less work to scrape them out)2-3 cloves of fresh garlic OR about 1/2 a tbsp confit garlic (see Tips for Geeks section)
- 2tbsp (about 50g) tahini (sesame seed paste)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- About 25g olive oil
- About 25g sunflower oil
- About 8g good quality salt (eg Maldon)
- Optional: (recommended if you don’t have access to an open flame for blackening the aubergines)
- Smoked paprika
- Smoked sea salt
- Fresh coriander or parsley leaves
- Pine kernels
- Truffle oil (optional)
Over a wood or charcoal barbecue, gas flame or under an electric grill, char the aubergines over direct heat until the skin is blackened and burnt all over. If you’re using a gas cooker, place the aubergines directly on above the flames on top of the hob (not in a pan). Once they’re done, transfer to a baking tray and into a 190C/Gas Mark 5 oven to cook for about 40 minutes or until very soft and tender.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool until soft enough to handle. Peel off the blackened skin from the creamy insides of the aubergines. Discard the skin and transfer the flesh to a blender.
If you’re using the confit garlic, add it to the blender now.
If you’re not using the confit garlic, take your garlic cloves, chop them as finely as you can, sprinkle with salt and grind to a paste in a pestle and mortar. Transfer to the blender.
Add the tahini and start the blender. With the blender running, slowly add all the lemon juice. If the contents of the blender are not blending evenly, stop blending, give it a stir, and start again. Add the oils slowly in a steady stream, with the blender running. Add the salt or smoked salt (and smoked paprika if you’re using it), blend well, and taste. Add more tahini, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and/or salt as per your personal preferences, and blend well again.
Transfer to a bowl, garnish with pine kernels, fresh coriander, a pinch of paprika and a drizzle of truffle oil or olive oil.
Tips for Geeks
I was THIS close to making the pun of “auber-genie” in the first paragraph, but I spared you that. Nor did you have to suffer through any pun relating to Ali Baba and open sesame [seed paste]. You’re welcome.
Peppers really do seem not to go very far after you char and peel them. The small bowl in that picture is the yield from five whole peppers. To me, this makes them very precious, so I serve them sparingly.
Peeling the peppers can be fiddly. You may or may not find it easier to do it under a stream of running water.
If you’d prefer to avoid the hassle, peppers quite like this can be bought in jars or tins from Spanish food importers such as Brindisa (Borough Market), and they are very good (though not cheap)
Raw garlic can have an astringent taste. In the recipe I mash the garlic with salt to leech some of that flavour out. Confiting – cooking the garlic at a low temperature completely submerged in oil, is even better. If you’ve ever roasted whole garlic cloves in their skins while doing a chicken – its like that but better.
Blended into a paste and kept in a jar in the fridge under a layer of congealed olive oil, confit garlic should last for months, so its worth doing a slightly larger batch than you need.
- 1 or more heads of garlic.
- Enough olive or sunflower oil to cover
Oven to 140C/Gas mark 1.
Separate the garlic into cloves and put in an oven-proof dish (the smallest one in which they will all fit on one layer. Fill with oil until the cloves of garlic are submerged. Put in the oven and cook until the garlic is tender enough that it can be squashed between your fingers. Drain (you can keep the highly garlic-flavoured oil for salad dressings etc), and allow to cool. When cold enough to handle, pop the garlic out of its skin. Remove the hard, fibrous tuft from the bottom of the clove if necessary and either use as it is or blend to a smooth paste in a pestle and mortar.
The quantities listed in the ingredients here are how much I use, but you shouldn’t feel beholden to them. If you prefer more or less tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic or salt, go for it. Best to balance them at the end of the blending though, especially the salt.
I use both olive oil and sunflower oil in this recipe because you need a certain amount of oil to blend the baba ganoush smoothly, but on its own, I find olive oil overpowers the other flavours.
The best smoky flavour is imparted into the baba ganoush by blackening the skin of the aubergines over wood or charcoal on a barbecue, and I HIGHLY recommend this method. If you don’t have a barbecue, use gas, and if you don’t have gas use a grill, and I really would recommend some smoked sea salt or smoked paprika to heighten the smoky flavour in that case.
If you know what you’re doing, set your barbecue up with a side for indirect heat and once you’ve charred the aubergines, leave them on the indirect side with the lid on and the vents half open. Whether barbecued or oven roasted, you want to cook the aubergines until the point they have almost completely lost structural integrity – like you could squeeze them into a pulp in your fist.
Unlike the peppers, some flesh may stay attached to the skin of the aubergine when you peel them. You can put these pieces on a board, skin side down and use a sharp paring knife to scrape flesh from the skin. Where the skin is crispy enough, just crack it off.
I tried to write a brief note on blenders vs food processors, but it expanded into enough material for a whole post. That post will go up later, here’s the highlights:
- For silky smooth liquids and purees, use a blender, rather than a food processor.
- Put the most solid elements (in this case, the aubergene) in the blender jug first, and rein the liquids in gradually, while the blender is running. This ensures the solid elements combine evenly and don’t form lumps, because they get properly chopped up by the blade rather than just getting stirred around the blender jug. Same principle as tempering eggs (see last week’s tips for geeks.)
- The goal here ideally is to create a vortex – a whirlpool in the centre of the blender, that sucks everything from the top to the bottom. That’s when you know you’re going to get a really smooth puree.
- If you can’t get a really smooth puree, your blender may be old or badly designed.
When you check the taste to see if you need to add more of anything, make sure its really well blended so that all of the different flavourings are well distributed throughout.
I use Tartafula white truffle oil from Borough Market.
Truffle oil tastes fantastic on everything. If you’re wondering “would this be nice with some truffle oil?” the answer is yes. For this reason, I usually only recommend truffle oil on dishes where it really shines, and this is one of them. The highly aromatic essence of truffles pairs really well with smoke, so I often add it to my smoky dishes.
Because the nature of truffle flavour is so aromatic, its best to use right at the end of cooking, or directly onto the plate. You’ll be able to smell it more vividly and its flavour won’t be cooked out.
A bottle of truffle oil isn’t cheap, but a little bit goes a long way. If you buy some though, don’t leave it on the shelf to go stale and get forgotten about – it might be expensive to use but its much, much too expensive to waste.