A delicious recipe for smoky eggplant discovered on a dream eating tour of Israel
This simple recipe for fire-roasted eggplant comes from Ned Baldwin, NYC chef and author of How to Dress an Egg. He discovered its memorable goodness on a dream food adventure: eating his way through Israel on a mission to learn as much about hummus as possible.
In Tel Aviv, a visit to the simple home of a woman named Irit provided the best lesson in eggplant roasting. She shared stories of her life and Israeli cooking, all the while cooking a big eggplant over the gas flame of her stove. She rotated it every once in a while. Eventually she removed it from the flame, peeled it, and set it on a mound of the most delicious tahini sauce. It was memorable both in its simplicity and exquisite taste and texture.
Secrets to Getting the Eggplant Just Right
Cooking eggplant is as unpredictable as cooking an octopus or, for that matter, raising a child: they’re all different and all require attention. Whether you cook eggplant over a stove, burner on a gas or wood grill, or even directly on the white coals of a campfire, the charred skin will lend a smoky effect.
Whatever method you choose, eggplant must be handled gently at all times so that its skin doesn’t break. Using tongs is fine, but don’t test for doneness by sticking it with a knife or pricking it with a fork because the meat of the eggplant steams inside its own skin, cooking more evenly and more gently than it would if the flesh were exposed to direct heat. Cooking time will vary, but you will know the eggplant is done when the skin is wrinkly and the flesh yields to the touch; it should feel soft all over. If you are not sure, cook it a bit longer (it’s hard to overcook eggplant, though it can be done).
Note: A 2-pound globe eggplant takes 10 to 15 minutes. Italian eggplants, which usually weigh about half a pound can take around 10 minutes. Very slim Japanese eggplants take about 5 minutes.
Fire-Roast the Eggplant
1 globe eggplant (about 2 pounds), or 4 small Italian eggplants (about ½ pound each)
Place the eggplant(s) on a grill over high heat or cook directly on the gas burner turned to medium high. Turn the eggplant from time to time to char on all sides. When the eggplant is done, the skin will have typically turned darker purple, almost black, and it will puff and then collapse a bit. Give it a squeeze to be sure it’s tender. Set aside in a bowl to cool. Gently peel the eggplant. If there are a few little flecks of black or burned skin left here and there, that’s fine.
Make the Tahini Sauce
1 tablespoon tahini
Kosher salt to taste (about one teaspoon)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, pureed
1 glug of olive oil
In a food processor, combine the tahini, 2 tablespoons of water and some salt. When the consistency is right, it should be like Heinz ketchup. Add the lemon juice and the garlic. Add a glug of olive oil to finish.
Make the Basil Sauce
½ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Work the basil and oil in a mortar and pestle until you create a fine paste, adding just a little oil at a time to keep the paste moving like pesto. If you are mortar-and-pestle-less, mince the basil with a knife and combine with the oil.
To serve: Smear the tahini sauce all over a platter. Lay the eggplant on the sauce. Sprinkle with some salt. Spoon the basil sauce over the eggplant, then finish with poached garlic and a squeeze of lemon.