When we moved here last August (to the middle of nowhere) from one of the best food cities in America, I was skeptical on trying any of the local restaurants. Much to my delight, we have found a couple of very appetizing “mom-and-pop” restaurants that we love. Our favorite is a Middle Eastern joint located in an unassuming building surrounded by many vacant structures and struggling businesses. Typically, most people wouldn’t give a place like this a chance because of its off-putting appearance, but we were lucky to have friends introduce us to the hidden gem. In fact, this is the place responsible for my recent hummus conversion.
Every time we visit Ala al Deen, we order either the small or large meze platter (depending on the size of our group) which includes a plate of meat, tabbouleh, hummus, pita bread, Arabic salad and baba ghanouj. And, we’ll always throw in an order of kibbeh…it can’t be beat!
Baba Ghanouj is an eggplant dip. Although traditional baba ghanouj is made with tahini, you can substitute an equal amount of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt instead. My favorite is the tangyness of the Greek yogurt, which also gives the dip a lighter and more appetizing color. I have a feeling this is the ingredient used by the restaurant as well.
The best method is grilling Japanese eggplants (for more even cooking) then scraping the insides into a strainer. If you’ve never scraped the innards from a cooked eggplant and have a weak stomach, this might be an issue for you. It isn’t pretty, but trust me, when it’s all done and all the ingredients are blended, you will love this dip!
Yield: 2 cups
2 pounds eggplants
freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 Tablespoons tahini, mayonnaise, or Greek yogurt
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
Poke each eggplant uniformly with a fork over its entire surface. Grill over high heat until the skins are shriveled and wrinkled on all sides and the eggplants are uniformly soft when squeezed with the tongs (about 25 minutes for large globe eggplants, 20 minutes for Italian eggplants, and 15 minutes for Japanese eggplants, turning the eggplants every 5 minutes.) Transfer the eggplants to a large plate to cool enough to handle.
Set a small colander over a bowl. Trim the top and bottom off each eggplant, then slit the eggplants lengthwise. Scoop out the hot pulp from the skins and place the pulp in the colander; discard the skins. Let the pulp drain for 3 minutes.
Transfer the pulp to a food processor. Add the lemon juice, garlic, tahini/mayo/yogurt, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Process until the mixture has a coarse, choppy texture, about eight 1-second pulses. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Scrape into a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 45 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Before serving, let set on counter-top to just cooler than room temperature. Stir in the parsley, then make a trough in the center of the dip and pour the olive oil into it. Serve with additional olive oil, pita bread, black olives tomato wedges, and cucumber slices.
Source: Adapted from The New Best Recipe, from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated