My husband Jay doesn’t like eggplant. He doesn’t care for its glossy, deep purple beauty. He doesn’t savor its versatility. He complains about its gooey texture. And above all, he refuses to share with me any eggplant dishes in restaurants or at home.
Alas, we say no to the late summer joy of ratatouille even if the best French chef from Nice would have cooked it from the juiciest tomatoes, bell peppers and zucchini. Even if he would have topped his creations with the freshest, most aromatic herbs and offered a free glass of citrusy rosé, thick chunks of eggplant would still discredit this joyful Provençal dish in my husband’s eyes.
We can’t order moussaka on a cold winter night. This eggplant-potato-meat layered hardy brick is relished by Turkish, Greek or Balkan folks. Sometimes moussaka reveals its tasty ground lamb and veggies under a cheese and béchamel. If only eggplant slices could have been subbed with something else.
A romantic night at a trattoria can be easily spoiled if on the table appears “eggplant parmigiana” with mozzarella and tomato-basil sauce. “No grazie!,” says my hubby. “We will take lasagna instead”. So what if it was breaded and fried. Golden-crisp eggplant is still eggplant.
Even sweet, sour and spicy sauce can’t hide well enough the main ingredient of the Chinese eggplant stir-fry. Oriental cooks use the same traditional flavorings for their Szechwan fish dishes as for this eggplant delight on which we would have to pass.
There is one dish, however, that somehow overrides Jay’s no-eggplant policy. Baba ghanoush comes usually to our table as a part of a fragrant and colorful mosaic of Arabic hors d’oeuvres. Maybe because it is between tabbouleh and lebneh or other meze parts, eggplant becomes unrecognizable to my husband’s palate. Even if baba ghanoush comes solo, just accentuated by a few “hot pink” stripes of pickled turnips (on picture above at Cedar Halal Food and Deli), its smoky taste changes the eggplantness of this delightful paste. First grilled before being puréed, eggplant inhales the charcoal fumes in a good way. With garlic, lemon juice and tahini added, it resembles hummus. Well, kind of. Sometimes, I even call it the other hummus, to make it more palatable for Jay.
ROASTED EGGPLANT DIP (BABA GHANOUSH)
recipe adapted from Cedar Halal Food and Deli in Orlando
1 large eggplant (or 2 smaller)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup tahini
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 450. Prick the eggplant with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and roast until skin is dark brown, about 30-45 minutes. The eggplant should be soft. Remove from the oven and let cool enough to handle. Split the eggplant in half and scoop the flesh. Place it in food processor together with garlic, lemon juice and tahini. Pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust lemon juice and salt. Serve at room temperature.