I love many things old fashioned. Food is usually better if you spend the time to make something from scratch.
This has led me to value traditional preparations over the quick and easy in many recipes. I’ll take 2 days to make sourdough bread, or smoke a brisket overnight, simmer a pot of stock for 3–5 hours, you get the idea.
When I watch Top Chef, I get anxious watching the contestants perform their quick-fire challenges, just because there are so many significant cooking accomplishments that take more than 30 minutes. I feel like viewers are missing out on so many other recipes that only take longer to prepare.
You can’t even begin to appreciate good food until you realize that it will be done when it’s done and not necessarily at dinner time when the clock strikes 6 o’clock.
But…how much time do you have to think about eggplant?
In the garden, fall is eggplant season, and eggplant gets a deservedly bad rap. On top of it being mushy and seedy, most people undercook it, it absorbs too much oil, and on top of everything, it’s not even photogenic, when you need to look up a recipe online.
I never ate eggplant until I was almost 30 years old. And, regardless of the fact that this is what happens to most people if their mom, dad, or resident chef didn’t cook it either, it is a little scary trying a new food for the first time.
Giving someone an eggplant is the gardening equivalent of “no such thing as a free lunch.” I can imagine the overwhelmed feeling that comes when you even start to think about what to do with a vegetable you’ve never cooked before.
And, the internet is great until you realize how many recipes are out there. How would you even know where to start if you haven’t cooked something before. How much time do you want to invest in this vegetable that has now become a “project”?
One of the recipes that I usually suggest you try if you haven’t ever cooked eggplant before is Baba Ghanoush.
This is an ancient dish that has been made for centuries in the Middle East and Mediterranean region, one of the original snack foods. Baba Ghanoush is a dip made with eggplant and flavored with tahini and garlic. Taking advantage of the mushy nature of eggplant.
Whenever you can turn vegetables into a snack, I find success getting people to try them.
Cooking Traditions are there for a Reason
Do you know what the reason is?
I was thinking about making Baba Ghanoush and bringing it down to a home cook level. Home cooks don’t have time to spend thinking about vegetables that they don’t know anything about, and they don’t have time to invest in cooking a vegetable that they don’t know if they would even like.
In the past, the one thing that a home cook might have is time. They might not have a sharp knife. They might not have an oven that is temperature regulated with a thermostat. They might not even have a table. So the easiest way to eat an eggplant would be to roast it over a fire, peel off the burned bits of skin, and then mash it up in a bowl with some tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt.
Today most home cooks have ovens, knives, and a counter in their kitchen, and if you cook more than a few days a week, I bet you have a blender or a food processor or the goddess of all kitchen appliances, an immersion blender.
So, a significantly more accessible way to make an eggplant dip is to coarsely (read, it doesn’t matter what shape they are in) chop up some vegetables, cook them for less time in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes, and then pour everything into your food processor add your tahini, lemon juice, and garlic and press the button.
I will give the purist that the texture is not the same. But is it really one better than the other, or are they just different?
I will even admit that this is NOT Baba Ghanoush. And I don’t want to convince anyone that it is. I won’t even call it by the same name. Yes, there are benefits to roasting a whole eggplant over a fire, it will add a smokier flavor to the dip, but I will continue to advocate to cook meals that are easy and not worry about all of the rules that people have followed in the past. Just like the best exercise is the one that you will do, the best recipe is whatever will get you in the kitchen cooking.
Now let’s try that eggplant!
Eggplant Pepper Dip
- 1–2 eggplants
- 2–3 small red bell peppers, seeds removed
- 1 onion, peeled
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons tahini (almond butter makes a good substitute)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Coarsely chop the eggplants, bell peppers, and onion. Toss them in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking. Cool slightly. Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the lemon juice, garlic and tahini and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Taste for salt and pepper, add if needed. Serve with pita chips or veggie sticks.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her blog at The Wooden Cutting Board on Twitter @juliehouse and Facebook @thewoodencuttingboard