Eggplant salad: A restrained baba ghanoush

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This is a dish I grew up with as a child, and I absolutely love it. I remember my mother and my aunt making this regularly during the summer months, and freezing lots of eggplants in plastic bags for the winter. Back then, we did not have a food processor or a blender, and my mom used to spend a lot of time mincing the roasted and peeled eggplants with a knife, in an attempt to turn them into a puree. The process was time-consuming and the result was far from perfect: despite my mom’s best efforts, the salad usually had lumps in it. Thankfully, modern kitchen gadgets make this dish a breeze to prepare.

Upon moving to the UK I found out about “baba ghanoush”, the renowned Middle Eastern dish, and I realized that my “eggplant salad” had some similarities to baba ghanoush. Both dishes had a smoky flavor and a silky texture, and they both elevated the eggplant to the status of veggie royalty.

Another realization came upon me shortly after I arrived in Chicago: I didn’t know dips were so popular in the US , and it occurred to me that my “salad” could actually be served as a vegetable dip. I know some people might call this an eggplant dip rather than an eggplant salad. This is how my family has called it for as long as I can remember though, so in the end I decided to keep the “salad” part of the name to honor this long-standing tradition.

Ingredients

5 eggplants (mine weighed approximately 1lb each)

1/2 onion

5 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp white vinegar

Salt (to taste)

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The preparation of the eggplants is the most difficult – and the messiest! – part. Just like with baba ghanoush, you start off by washing the eggplants and then roasting them over a stove-top burner until they turn soft and their juices start running all over the place. I always put aluminum foil on the stove (I leave the burners uncovered though) to make the cleaning easier afterwards:

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Here’s how the eggplants look like when the roasting part is over:

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When the eggplants are cold peel them, quickly run them through cold water, and squeeze them to remove any excess water. Put them in a blender along with the chopped onion, the vegetable oil and the white vinegar:

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Put the blender on high speed for approximately 30 seconds. Stop and add salt to taste. If you add more vegetable oil this dish will become creamier. You can also add more vinegar if you want to. Continue blending until the salad is smooth enough for your liking. Transfer it from the blender into a dip bowl, and put it in the refrigerator for an hour or so. We always eat this salad chilled, generously spread on fresh bread and with sliced tomatoes on top.

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As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the comforting texture and smoky flavor of this salad, and I realized how much it meant to me and how it connected me with my childhood and my culture. I have called this dish “a restrained baba ghanoush,” and I think I am right in saying that although it has less ingredients than baba ghanoush, this salad definitely holds its own and provides an unadulterated awesomeness of flavors.

I hope you like it too.


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