We were inspired to take our grandmother’s baba ghanoush recipe and give it a flavor makeover.
Eggplant journeyed from its origins in India and Sri Lanka to China, where there is mention of this plump and glossy vegetable as early as the 5th century. From there, eggplant embedded itself In the culinary repertoire of the Middle East. When the Muslim Moors from North Africa conquered the Iberian peninsula in 711, they brought eggplant to the European continent. In the thirteenth century, commercial trade with Arab merchants brought eggplant to the Italian peninsula.
Eggplant’s journey from India across the known world is reflected in its name in each language. In Hindi it is bianjan—baban’jan in Arabic, badan’jan in Farsi, berenjena in Spanish, melanzane in Italian and aubergine in English.
Eggplants come in all shapes and sizes and shades ranging from black to purple to zebra to yellow to white. We call them eggplant because of a European variety cultivated in the 18th century that are perfectly white and oval and look like eggs hanging from a shrub. The most common and favorite variety in the United States is romantically named Black Beauty, but the slender, lilac Oriental variety is also a good choice. Although eggplant is available year-round, the peak season is July to October. The freshest eggplants have a smooth, shiny skin and feel firm and heavy.
The creation of a Jewish state in 1948 and the massive influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa resulted in the Israeli government instituting a system of rationing food and coupon books. During this austerity period Tsena, many eggplant recipes were created to take advantage of their low-cost, easy availability and the versatility of the firm flesh in adapting other flavors. Liver was scarce so they made mock chopped liver by flavoring eggplant. Tomatoes were scarce so they added one tomato to flavor several eggplants. And of course, eggplant was already featured in many Levantine iterations, including salads, pickles, sliced and fried for a crispy treat, as well as stuffed with rice and vegetables.
Nowadays, eggplant is still a favorite in the Israeli kitchen. Israeli chefs serve roasted eggplant with tahini and pomegranate, tahini and feta and tahini and goose liver. They even serve it with tuna tartar.
We were inspired to take our grandmother’s baba ghanoush recipe and give it a flavor makeover. Sure, it’s still got the wonderful nutty flavor of tahini, the piquancy of garlic and fresh tang of lemon juice. But we added walnuts and silan and deliciously caramelized and crisped red onion for a dish that will surprise and delight your friends and family. Grilling the eggplant over an open flame or on the barbecue imparts a wonderful smoky flavor, but roasting in the oven also gets the job done.
Modern Eggplant Recipe
2 medium eggplants, rinsed and dried
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Silan
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped coarsely
1 cup cilantro or Italian parsley, finely chopped
Pierce eggplant several times with a knife.
Place egg plant on barbecue or stove top set to a very low flame and cook for 45 minutes.
Turn the eggplant every 15 minutes, until the skin is completely charred.
Set aside and let cool.
Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat, add onion.
Reduce flame and sauté the onion until onion is golden with crispy edges, then set aside.
Peel the eggplant and discard the skin, saving the eggplant juices for the dressing.
Cut the eggplant into thin strips and place in serving bowl.
Add parsley, then pour dressing and combine well.
Top with fried onion.
Drizzle with Silan and garnish with walnuts.
1 cup tahini
1 lemon, juiced
½ cup ice water
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Sumac
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 anchovies, chopped finely (optional)
In food processor combine the tahini with the lemon juice and ice water until smooth.
Add eggplant juices, garlic, spices and olive oil and anchovies, combine until smooth and creamy.