Little known fact: I used to sling hot plates of Middle Eastern food at a small, local café in college. There I tasted lamb for the first time, learned about pomegranate molasses, and developed a love for ethnic food. When I worked a lunch shift, I was responsible for making the Turkish coffee in the back of the house. As soon as I passed through the heavy swinging doors my nostrils were greeted with the intense smells of cardamom and cinnamon. The owner’s wife could always be found scurrying frantically around the small kitchen, her head down in a steaming pot half her size. She always let me taste what she was making and once even said I was her favorite to feed because I ate everything she gave me without asking what it was. I’m bold like that. Andrew Zimmerman style.
Once I got a taste for the unique spices and flavors of ethnic food, my plain Jane American staples didn’t seem quite as tasty or exciting. With a more enlightened palette and a new-found interest in trying “weird” food, I tasted my way through the Ethiopian, Peruvian, Thai, and Indian cuisines. I love it all and make it a mission to find the most authentic, hole-in-the-wall spots wherever I travel.
Not only have pho, sashimi, and curry become my go-to comfort foods, they’re also the dishes that initially inspired me to get in the kitchen and start experimenting with new ingredients. Some of the first dishes I learned to cook well enough to put into the weekly rotation were the ones I ate in restaurants but couldn’t afford to order nearly enough to satisfy my craving. Indonesian Peanut Sauté, Spicy Adobo Chicken Tacos, Vegetable Masala; I could eat them every night. And don’t worry, they’ll be featured here soon enough.
Baba ganoush was one of those “weird” foods I couldn’t pronounce and didn’t get the pleasure of trying until I started working at the Middle Eastern restaurant. It’s the sassier sister of hummus. Smokey, rich, and perfect as a dip or a spread, baba ganoush also works for folks who are doing Paleo or can’t eat beans. This all-veggie dip is a healthy afternoon snack with a few stalks of celery or carrots, but it really sings as a condiment on my veggie sandwiches. Spread it generously on a piece of toast with some tomato, avocado, and sprouts and you’ll have a happy belly until dinner time.
Be adventurous. Stick your finger in that baba ganoush. Try it, you’ll like it.
2 large or 4 small eggplants
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons tahini
2 teaspoons salt (divided), plus more for pre-cook process
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for roasting
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
Preheat oven to a high broil.
Peel eggplant and cut into ½ inch thick slices. Place the eggplant rounds on a wire rack set on top of a cookie sheet. Sprinkle liberally with salt. Let sit for 20-30 minutes until the eggplant has released some liquid and you see beads of moisture on top of the rounds. Rinse each round with water and then squeeze them with your palms to rid the eggplant of as much moisture as possible. Return the eggplant to the cookie sheet (with rack) and drizzle with olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt.
Broil eggplant for 10 minutes on each side. Remove from the oven and immediately wrap eggplant in a foil pouch. Let steam for 10 minutes. Chop the eggplant.
Place all ingredients, except for the eggplant and olive oil, in a blender or food processor. Puree the wet mixture for a full minute. Add the eggplant and pulse. Once combined, add in the olive oil one tablespoon at a time until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.