In my post about Moroccan Spiced Meatloaf, I mentioned that I was at one time blessed to have lived in the buzzing, ethnic heart of Ghent, Belgium’s third largest city and melting pot of all kinds of Eastern cuisines.
I first discovered ‘Baba Ganoush’ in a small, dimly lit Turkish restaurant, complete with ornate belly-dancers and Kelim-covered poofs that served as seats around the knee-high, mahogany table tops. We had made our reservations a few weeks ahead of time, but when we arrived, somehow our reservation got botched and we had to wait well over an hour for our table. It turns out that this was actually a blessing in disguise, as the incredibly hospitable owner catered to us with gratuitous grilled pita bread and baba ganoush. Farouk, the bartender who made sure we weren’t thinking about the time that passed, kept the wine & conversation flowing with flair, and in the end, we sort of regretted being escorted to our table. To me, baba ganoush represents the warmth & earthy deliciousness of the flavorful ethnic dishes you find in the many small, family-run eateries in Belgium’s urban areas. Just like Mexican cuisine has become a staple in every day living in California, shoarma, doner kebab & things like baba ganoush are part of every day life in Belgium.
If you’ve never heard of baba ganoush, I urge you to keep an open mind as all it really is, is nothing more than a silky smooth & velvety roasted eggplant dip. It’s truly a bit of heaven in a small bowl. It’s perfect on bread or with pita chips, but also as a dip for roasted vegetables or a spread for sandwiches. It’s very versatile, and you’ll understand why the minute your lips meet this Middle-Eastern treasure.
BABA GANOUSH WITH KALAMATA OLIVES & GOAT CHEESE
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘The Magic Carpet’)
– 2 large eggplant(s), whole
– 3-4 cloves of garlic, grated (use more for garlicky, and less for mild)
– 1 scallion, finely chopped
– 1/4 cup of tahini (*)
– 3 Tbsp of mild soft goat cheese (or thick Greek yogurt)
– juice of 1 small fresh lemon
– 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
– 1 tsp of ground cumin
– 1 tsp of smoked paprika
– 1/3 cup of finely chopped kalamata olives
– salt & pepper to taste
(*) Tahini is a paste that is similar in texture than peanut butter, but made from sesame seed, instead. It can usually be found at local specialty grocery stores.
Heat oven to 375F (200C). Wash eggplant and prick them all over with a fork. Roast in the oven, whole, for approx. 45-60 minutes until the skin is blackened and the flesh is soft.
Let cool and peel eggplant. When they are soft and perfectly roasted, this should be very easy.
Slice off the top of each eggplant and place peeled flesh in a large bowl, together with the garlic and spring onion. Purée with a hand mixer until you get a smooth consistency, or mash it all by hand with a fork.
Add the tahini, lemon juice, goat cheese, spices and chopped parsley, and stir together until well combined. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.
Heap chopped olives on top. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle some toasted pine nuts over the top, and serve with wedges of pita bread or grilled toast.