Sometimes you don’t want to cook, you just want to play with fire. I bet many chefs would admit as much (see: guys and grilling, for example). The other day, still on the hunt for our next apartment (a tedious hunt, by the way) I found myself, in a trance, wandering into my kitchen, turning on the gas stove, and holding a skinny Japanese eggplant over the flame with tongs. Was I having a serial killer moment? Maybe. But I’d learned this technique from Chef Anita Lo while writing my cookbook.
Look, I’m not going to lie, this is a really fun thing to do. It only works with skinny Japanese eggplants and you have to monitor them pretty carefully. The direct contact with the flame ensures that the outside will get dark and smoky and that the inside, eventually, will be soft as custard. Just keep rotating them around until all the parts are black and a knife goes through easily. When you’re done, they’ll look like this.
Then it’s just a matter of scooping their flesh into a food processor. If I had to do this again, I would’ve charred them darker to make the skin easier to peel off. As it was, I did the best I could with a sharp knife. (Getting some black bits into the mix isn’t a bad thing; they’ll contribute to the smoky flavor.)
Into a food processor the interior flesh goes and then I turned to Chef Einat Admony’s baba ganoush recipe, also from my cookbook. That means adding a few spoonfuls of tahini, 2 slivered cloves of garlic (Chef Admony poaches her garlic first, but I skipped that step), a splash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of honey, and a pinch of salt. Whir it up until it looks like this.
Then adjust: more salt? Lemon juice? Play around, that’s the 2nd most fun part after setting the eggplant on fire.
What makes it taste so good is the smoky flavor you get from charring it. (If you can’t find skinny eggplant, you can skip Lo’s technique in favor of Admony’s: she slices the whole globe eggplant in half, wraps it in foil, puts it in a hot skillet and puts another skillet on top to weight it down. She cooks it like that until a knife goes through the foil easily and the eggplant is charred. Then scrape off the charred bits and the skin and you’re ready to go.)
To serve, drizzle the baba ganoush with olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar.
It’s best enjoyed with toasted pita wedges, but if, like me, you don’t have those handy, just use tortilla chips (my version of fusion food). Or raw vegetables. Or grill up some bread, pile on baba ganoush, and top with a parsley salad made with orange and lemon segments.
No matter how you eat it, this recipe’s living proof that setting things on fire has its rewards. Now back to finding an apartment.