Baba Ghanouj: The Spoiled Father

On Saturday at the farmer’s market, we picked up beautiful eggplants and bell peppers that were the deepest purple. We knew that we had to combine them in a baba ghanouj. But that night we went out to to a wildlife refuge to look at Jupiter through a telescope, and the eggplants and peppers went into the fridge. Finally, on Wednesday, we planned to make baba ghanouj for supper. When I got the purple veggies out, they looked just as beautiful as before.

From his days working at Fadi’s in Houston—which serves the best Middle Eastern food you can find—Chili can sure whip up a fine batch of baba. But tragedy struck! He was feeling sick and had to lay himself down. I was nervous about doing it all on my own, so I ran in to ask him at every new step. How high should the oven be? (“pretty high”)… How long should they go? (“until they’re soft”)…

I was roasting the eggplants and peppers while preparing a tabouli salad, another thing that Chili always makes. How much lemon juice? (“a lot!”)… How much bulgar wheat? (“just a little”)… How should I cut the tomatoes? (“however you want em”). I grew up eating mostly vegetables from our garden (fresh in summer, canned or frozen in winter) and cornbread, so I’ll admit that a lot of times I just leave the more “exotic” stuff to Chili, whose dad lived in Israel and made these foods for them all the time. I had never actually made the tabouli or baba, but as I ran back to the kitchen each time with Chili’s answer on what to do, I realized this wasn’t much more complex than succotash. It really was just a matter of how much you wanted to put in.

When I took the fully roasted eggplants out of the oven, Chili yelled into the kitchen that I could take the skins off or not, whatever I wanted (figures!). So, I didn’t! I threw the whole things (well, halves), skins & all, into the $3 food processor we scored at an estate sale and added lemon juice (“however much you want”), tahine (“some”), and olive oil (“i don’t know”). This all turned out to be very liberating, throwing however much of whatever into the food processor and hitting the button. Mostly, I watched out for the texture I’ve seen when Chili whips it up. It’s very creamy. At first my batch was too sticky, so I added “a bunch” more olive oil and maybe 3 more lemons. All in all, I think about 6 lemons went in (their juice, not the whole thing). When it seemed not too sticky anymore (the tahine does that), I dumped it on a plate and brought it to Chili with a spoon, so he could do the pretty thing:

Then I drizzled some more olive oil on it and scattered a few kalamata olives.

**As an aside, olive oil is really good for you, especially your heart and blood vessels, and it’s also a cancer preventative. Especially interesting, it is a natural anti-inflammatory, so you might try taking a few tablespoons of that a day on your food instead of aspirin. We buy ours at Holy Land in Knoxville in a 3 liter glass jug, and that lasts us about a month.**

Mmmmm. The whole while, the tabouli had been soaking so that the bulgar wheat could get soft. As a special touch, I added crunchy sprouts of green peas, lentils, and adzuki beans.

Even though we already officially said goodbye to tomatoes for the season, we found that Hines Valley Farm in Loudon County is still rakin em in! Because I don’t eat the yucky, mealy tomatoes that’ve been shipped in winter time, I take advantage of local tomatoes until they are really, really gone. So, fresh local tomatoes again, in the middle of October! Thank goodness we live in Tennessee and no farther north.

The pita bread had been warming in the oven, and when everything was on the table I took it out and put it on a plate.

Baba ghanouj translates roughly as spoiled father—”I like that part,” said Chili. The part about the spoiled father. I guess if a father is spoiled, his wife and/or children make him lots of soft roasted eggplant to dip his pita in. Finally, since Chili was sick, he got to be the spoiled father and I had to be the one to cook! What a twist of fate. But next time, he’ll probably make it for me.

Get the recipe here


—Chow Chow



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