Several weeks ago, I went to Cafe Munir in North Seattle. I highly recommend a visit here, all of the food was most excellent! We feasted on kebabs, pitas, and dips such as Hommous bil Lahm ou Snobar (hummus with sizzling lamb and pine nuts on top), Muhammara (roasted peppers, walnuts, chili and pomegranate), Karnabeet Mishwiyeh (grilled cauliflower with caraway, crispy onions and tahini sauce), and Baba Ganoush (roasted eggplant with lemon and tahini sauce).
I loved everything, except for their Baba Ganoush. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but it was a different style than I enjoy. All I could think about was the first time I ever had Baba Ganoush: in a small Israeli restaurant in Cusco, Peru in 2005. Surprised? We were too! My mom, who spent time in Israel as a teen, was very excited to find the little Israeli restaurant tucked into the winding cobbled streets of this ancient Incan city. Interestingly, the Peruvian capitol is a popular travel destination for young Israelis. Some shop keepers speak Hebrew and it is not uncommon to see Israeli flags and signs in Hebrew. My dad and I did the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and one of the hikers in our group was Israeli. He explained that all Israeli youth must serve in the military for nearly three years after high school. Once they finish their service, it is customary to embark on an adventure they call tiyul hagadol, or ‘big trip’. Nearly 30% of these youth tour South America, and Peru is an unmissable experience.
But I digress. The Baba Ganoush in Peru left such an impression on me that I’ve been searching for a rival, fruitlessly, for over a decade. For me, Baba Ganoush must be light, fluffy, smooth, salted just-so, a hint of lemon and a rich eggplant flavor that is neither bitter, nor hidden behind cloves of garlic and gobs of tahini (sesame paste). The dish at Cafe Munir was tasty, bursting with fresh flavor. But the style was different: the eggplant was not blended smooth, there was too little salt and too much cilantro for my taste. It just served to reminded me of my search and I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. So, for the last month, I’ve been developing this recipe. Although it is a basic recipe, the key lies in how fresh and ripe your eggplant is and, most importantly, how you roast it. And this is what has taken me so long to get this recipe out to you: I have made several batches, with eggplant roasted in different ways, to see how it changes the taste. The method I settled on is the long, slow bbq roast. The eggplant is sweeter, the flavor more concentrated, and it is SO EASY TO PEEL! Finally, make sure you don’t spoil your work by using cheap olive oil. With so few ingredients quality is important here, so grab the good stuff!
Without further ado, here is the final recipe; it comes damn close to what I remember from Peru (I think at this point I’ve built it up so much in my mind that nothing is ever going to quite scratch that itch). It is simple, but time-intensive. Good food takes time, and this dish is no exception.
- 3 large egg plants
- 5 green onions green part only
- 1 medium lemon juiced
- 2 tsp tahini
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
Slow roast your eggplant for 3-4 hours on medium-low heat, rotating every 45 minutes
Let the eggplant cool, then scoop the flesh into a cheese cloth
Gently wring all the liquid out
Scoop the pulp into a blender and add the green onion, lemon, tahini, olive oil and salt (to taste) and blend until very smooth
Cool, then serve drizzled with olive oil and spice mixes such as zaatar