Charred Eggplant Salad (a.k.a. Baba Ghanoush)
Eggplant is one of those true summer gems but is often misunderstood and underappreciated. Growing up in an Italian-American family, I only ever knew eggplant to be fried, covered in sauce & cheese, and baked until bubbly and golden. Now this is a perfectly good way to eat eggplant, but it wasn’t until I had eggplant charred beyond recognition and blended with tahini, that I realized I had been eating eggplant wrong all these years.
Cooking eggplant in a bed of coals until blackened and crispy turns the often bitter & spongy flesh into something all completely different…silky, smoky, decadent. Magical? Yes. Difficult? No. This truly is a no fuss recipe. It’s one of those rare recipes where overcooking your vegetables is required. Don’t have a charcoal grill? No worries. You can accomplish very similar results in a very hot oven or gas grill. They key is to fully cook the eggplant until the skin is crispy and the interior flesh has lost all texture.
Paired with the Tahini-yogurt sauce and toasted flatbread, this eggplant salad makes a great lunch or it can be part of a larger summer dinner alongside a grilled whole chicken and farro salad.
- If using a charcoal grill, allow the charcoal to burn down until you have a nice pile of red-hot coals. Nestle the eggplants into the coals. Turn the eggplant every few minutes for about 20 minutes until blackened and fully cooked. The skin should look charred and crispy, and the interior texture should be extremely soft. It is totally Ok if the eggplant blows out. Once cooked, transfer to a bowl and cover loosely with a towel.
- Once the eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise through the stem. Scoop the cooked flesh into another bowl. Some charred bits of skin are Ok, but avoid adding too much as it can be very bitter.
- Drain off any liquid accumulated on the bottom of the bowl and then dump the eggplant on your cutting board. Add a couple pinches of salt, 1 tablespoon of the oil and half the cilantro leaves. Using a large chef knife, chop and mix the eggplant together.
- Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice. Taste and adjust flavor with salt or more lemon.
- Once you’re happy with the taste, spread the eggplant on a large platter.
- Drizzle with more olive oil and the tahini sauce. Scatter with your pistachios and the remaining cilantro leaves.
- Grab your warmed flatbread and dig in!
- Combine tahini, lemon juice maple, salt and olive oil in a bowl. Whisk until combined.
- Add yogurt and water and mix until sauce is creamy. Add cumin and taste.
- Sauce may separate, but adding a little more water and stirring will bring sauce back together.
Michael Joyce is a chef in the Lehigh Valley and and local food advocate. Spending his career in kitchens devoted to seasonality and sustainability such as Blue Hill, Barbuzzo, and is currently at Bolete Restaurant. He believes that cooking through the seasons and as close to the source as possible, is not only satisfying and inspiring, but critical to the health of our local communities.