As recently as college, I thought eggplants were poisonous. I can’t be the only one. I blame Hudson’s Adventure Island and my parents.
But even after discovering that eggplant wouldn’t drain my energy bars in real life, I still considered it to rank among the world’s worst vegetables. It’s spongy, the skin is thick, and it doesn’t really taste like anything. (And why the f is it called an eggplant?)But here’s the thing. They’re all over the farmers’ markets, and you can get one the size of your head for a dollar. And there’s an Indian eggplant dish called baingan bharta that I’m in love with.
I’m not going to post a baingan bharta recipe, because that would be stealing. I’ve been using the recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian (Amazon affiliate link), a fantastic book I got from the library that tons of people recommended to me for my vegan September. I’m going to buy it once the library takes it away from me. (Here’s a link to a different baingan bharta recipe if you want to try it yourself.)
What I am going to post is the first step, the roasting or smoking of the eggplants, because to my knowledge that’s the only known way to make eggplant good. And once you do that, it’s easy to make the best baba ganouj I’ve ever tasted.
How to Roast an Eggplant
Ideally, you should smoke eggplants by burying them in the ashes of a fire. Since most of us don’t regularly have fires with ashes, many make-at-home recipes will have you roast them in the oven instead.
But I found a better way: Smoke them in a gas grill. You don’t even need woodchips; the skins on the eggplant give off their own smoke, and it’s perfect.
Here’s how I do it:
- Crank your grill up as high as it goes. Mine gets up to 600 degrees and that seems totally fine.
- Pierce two large eggplants all over with a fork and put them on the grill (you can do more than this, but maybe just stick to two the first time).
- Close the grill. Use tongs to rotate the eggplants every 10 to 15 minutes, for as little as half an hour and up to a full hour. The longer you leave them on there, the smokier the eggplant will get. You want the middle to be nice and soft but the skins to get charred and crisp.
- Remove the eggplants from the grill and allow them to cool.
- Carefully cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon, leaving the brittle skins behind. (Others will tell you to peel the skins off, but that leaves lots of char behind.)
- Use your smoky eggplant flesh for whatever you want!
Baba Ghannouj Recipe
You can use this soft, smoked eggplant flesh for a lot of things. As I mentioned, baingan barta and baba ghannouj both start out this way, but so do other things. Like this eggplant caviar recipe, for example.
Anyway, here’s how to make baba ghannouj with the eggplant you just smoked. It’s similar to the recipe in World Vegetarian. If you can’t do this, you’re terrible at cooking.
Ready? Put the smoked flesh of two small eggplants in a food processor with 6 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of a lemon, and two teaspoons of salt. Puree until it’s creamy, and then add more lemon and salt to taste. Use as a dip for whole wheat pitas.
Told you it was easy. Try it and thank me later.