Cooking Together

‘Cooking Together’: Baba Ganouj

Baba Ghanouj (Roasted Eggplants with Sesame Paste and herbs) 

By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff

Eggplants, native to India, are available there in many shapes and colors. Also known as aubergine, this vegetable is very popular in many Asian and Middle Eastern countries, where it grows year around. There, eggplants are cooked using a variety of techniques, such as stir-frying, stuffing and roasting. 

In the United States, this vegetable has not attained the same popularity because some Americans are not fond of eggplants. This may be due to the bitterness they taste in eggplant dishes they prepare. This column shows how to select the best eggplants and how to cook them using a Middle Eastern recipe that makes a flavorful dish that is not bitter. 

Eggplants have many health and nutritional benefits. They contain a good deal of potassium, and vitamins A and C; all good for body’s cell rejuvenation. Eggplants also contain polyphenols, a chemical that can help maintain a healthy blood sugar level, which is beneficial to people with diabetes. While rich in fiber, eggplants are very low in calories, making them a good option for weight watchers.

If prepared well, eggplants are delicious! Many variations of eggplants are available here, in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly during the summer. Some are small and round, others are long and thin, some are purple and others green or even white. For this recipe, you should buy small eggplants. Depending on where they are sold, these small eggplants are labeled as Japanese, Chinese, Italian or Indian. Any of these small eggplants are perfect for roasting and they are less seedy and less bitter than the large globe variety. If you cannot find small eggplants in your local grocery store, go to a farmers’ market or an ethnic food specialty store. They will definitely have them during the months of June and July in our area. 

Select eggplants that are shiny and fresh and not too hard, but also not too soft and wrinkly. Refrigerate soon after purchasing and use them within a few days.  

Baba Ghanouj is rich in texture, but it is a healthy vegan dip that can go on any bread or crackers. It can be used as a sauce on steamed vegetables. I even use Baba Ghanouj on my veggie burgers as a spread, instead of mayonnaise. 

In the Middle East and in India, eggplants are roasted on an outdoor grill or in a pit-like earthen oven or indoors on a gas burner. You can duplicate this taste by roasting eggplants on the grill at the picnic sight or on your back yard grill.  Or, cook them indoors over a gas burner. 

Ingredients: 

4 to 6 Japanese or any small eggplants (approximately 1 pound)¼ cup toasted or raw tahini (sesame seed butter)
2 tablespoons water
1⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 teaspoon honey or sugar
2 tablespoons or more olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
2 tablespoons or more olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A few large Romaine or green leaf lettuce leaves for making a bed for the dip/spread
Freshly chopped parsley leaves and a few mint leaves for garnish 

Place the eggplants directly on the flame of an outdoor grill or a gas burner, if you are cooking indoors. You can hold two small eggplants at a time using tongs. Turn the eggplants frequently as they are roasted over a medium flame and cook them until they become soft and charred all over. The process will take only a few minutes – the eggplant will be limp with cracked skin.

Place the roasted eggplants on a cutting board and allow them to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove the charred skin using your fingertips. Do not use a knife for peeling. Then cut the pulp using a knife and mash it with a fork. Do not use a food processor or a blender to mash eggplant. Collect the pulp in a mixing bowl.

In a separate small bowl or jar, combine the tahini, water, lemon juice, sugar, oil, garlic and black pepper. Whisk the mixture thoroughly, then add it to the pureed eggplant. Mix everything thoroughly using a fork and correct seasoning.  Make a bed of lettuce and spread Baba Ghanouj on top. Sprinkle more oil on top and garnish it with chopped parsley and mint. Serve at room temperature or keep it chilled until ready to serve.  

Serve Baba Ghanouj with pita bread, crackers and/or raw vegetables; as a side dish or as hors d’oeuvre. 

Makes six servings 

Shanta is a Sunset District resident and the author of “Cooking Together” and “Flavors of India,” both available at Other Avenues Food Co-op., Green Apple Book Store, Rainbow Grocery Co-op, and at other local bookstores. Shanta writes recipes and articles on food. Shanta teaches cooking classes and does cooking demonstrations as well as lectures on food at public places such as the libraries. She shares her recipes via videos on YouTube. To view her cooking videos click Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff’s YouTube videos.

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