Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj

Usually, recipes of deconstructed nature have an air of superciliousness to them, as if only the most learned and sophisticated gourmands can appreciate the subtle alterations of the original dish. If the requisite perceptiveness and irony goes over your head, well, then you're just left with a bunch of isolated components on a plate that probably taste good, but aren't cohesive in theme. Kind of how I felt after I watched Season 7 of Mad Men. Apropos to television, the elusion doesn't bother me because I still find the show extremely entertaining. If I didn't realize I was eating a deconstructed lobster roll, I'd be pissed!

Luckily, we can throw all of this highbrow nonsense out the window with Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj. Here, deconstruction is characterized in the simplest of ways: your eggplant remains whole.  Ergo, it is not mashed. The very obvious integral ingredients of baba ghanouj—eggplant, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice—stay in tact for the world to see, tasting just as delicious as the traditional dip we all know and love but boasting an easier and quicker prep time.

Then there's the mastermind of the recipe: the tomato mixture that finishes the dish. A fresh, fragrant bruschetta, the acidity of the tomatoes perfectly compliment the earthiness and smoke of the eggplant. Enter the tahini, offering a complexity (easily grasped, promise!) with its innate nutty, acerbic undertone. The combination is divine. The presentation—showcasing the eggplant flesh, delicately fanned, and warm coral tones of freshly grated tomato, is beautiful—something that cannot be said of your run-of-the-mill gray-hued baba ghanouj.

I served the dish with a side of homemade pita chips, alternating between scooping out the fleshy eggplant and its accouterments with a fork to top each chip with just eating the eggplant whole via fork and knife. Though roasted vegetable dishes are usually served as sides, this one looks and feels like a main—and definitely garners a lasting impression. Who knew baba ghanouj—er, its deconstructed cousin?—could be such a beauty!

Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj (from NY Times feature Revel In The Bounty Of Spring, With A Feast From Yotam Ottolenghi) 
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
4 large eggplants, approximately 3 pounds (use smaller eggplants if cooking on a stove to decrease prep time)
 Flaky sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
4 tablespoons tahini paste (re: previous post, I recommend Seed + Mill)
2 plum tomatoes, roughly grated
1 small garlic clove, crushed, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves (can substitute dried)

Directions:
  1. Char the eggplant. To cook on a stove*, place each eggplant directly over an open medium flame, and cook for 15 or 20 minutes, using tongs to turn the eggplant a number of times, until the skin is charred all over and the flesh is soft and smoky. To cook on a gas or charcoal grill, place the eggplants on the grill, and cook over medium-high heat, using tongs to turn the eggplant until the skin is charred all over and the flesh is completely soft and smoky.
  2. Remove the eggplants from the heat, and place on a rack to cool and drain, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin, leaving the stalks intact, and place them on a large plate. Using your fingers, coax each eggplant into a fan shape, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and drizzle with a tablespoon of tahini.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the grated tomato in a medium bowl with the garlic, oil, lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Spoon the mixture over the eggplants and tahini, leaving some of the eggplant visible, and then sprinkle with the oregano leaves and a final dusting of salt.

*Make sure to stab each eggplant with a fork in multiple places to prevent it from exploding!

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