Tom’s Kitchen: The Coolest, Easiest Summer Eggplant Trick

Paul Philpott

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During the broiling-hot Texas summer, I search for dishes that fall into a sweet and cool spot: seasonal produce prepared with minimal heat. Tomatoes are easy. Eggplant, one of my very vegetables, presents a special challenge. The ways that I love to cook it—searing and roasting—are just too damned hot for August. I sometimes grill it, of course, but standing in 100-degree heat over a fire doesn’t always appeal.

After a sweaty recent visit to the farmers market, I found myself the owner of three gorgeous purple eggplants—and feeling no desire to fire up the stove or grill. Then, from the depths of my culinary memory, I recovered a technique I learned from Paula Wolfert’s outstanding 1994 book The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean: You simply wrap the eggplants in foil, prick them all over with the tines of a fork, and cook them on a gas stovetop over a low flame—so low it barely heats the kitchen. Then you separate the flesh from the skin and puree it with a few other ingredients into baba ghanoush, the classic Levantine eggplant spread. The open flame gives the eggplant a subtle smokiness that really elevates the dish. (Of course, cooking it over a charcoal grill is even better.)

Guided by Wolfert, one of my culinary heroes, that’s exactly what I did. The following recipe is adapted from Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, which brims with summer-ready ideas. (Note to self: try a chilled version of “Yogurt and Leek Soup with Mint.”)

Baba ghanoush gear

Baba Ghanoush
(Makes two cups)
3 medium-sized eggplants
2 small cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
A couple of strips of pickled red onion (optional)
5 tablespoons of tahini
One lemon, sliced in half
3-4 tablespoons of water
Sea salt and freshly gound black pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil

Garnishes
Some kind of ground chile powder—Allepo pepper (as Wolfert suggests), paprika, or, as I used, ground chipotle pepper
1 small ripe tomato, diced
A few sprigs of parsley, chopped

Trim the stems from the eggplants and wrap them with foil. Using a fork, prick them in several places, all over. Set two gas stovetop burners to a low setting, and place two of the eggplants on a grate directly over one, and the third over another (see photo). Let then cook, turning them occasionally with a tongs, until they become quite squishy and are releasing steam. Their collapse should be complete, abject. Wolfert suggests dumping the cooked eggplants into a basin of cold water and peeling them immediately. I simply let them sit for 30 minutes or so in a bowl to cool, then I stripped away the foil, rinsed them in cold water, and then peeled them over a bowl.

Note the low flame.

Add the tahini, the garlic, and the onion (if using) to the basin of a food processor fitted with a blade. Squeeze half of the lemon (over a metal strainer to catch the seeds) into the basin, and add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Process until absolutely smooth, if necessary pushing down the sides of the basin with a rubber spatula in between whirs. Creaming the tahini, lemon, and garlic at this point is Wolfert’s brilliant baba—it will give the final product a gorgeous lightness. Now add the eggplant flesh, two tablespoons of water, a glug of olive oil, and puree until absolutely smooth, again pausing to intervene with a spatula if necessary. If you’re having trouble achieving absolute smoothness, add another tablespoon of water. Now taste, adding a bit more salt or lemon if it seems necessary.

To serve, spread as much baba ghanoush as you expect to eat in one sitting on a plate. (The rest should be kept tightly covered in the fridge—it will maintain peak flavor for a few days). Give it a few lashings of your best olive oil, a brisk sprinkle of ground chile, some grinds of black pepper, and some diced tomato and chopped parsley. Serve with good crackers. This spread would also be a good excuse to make Alice Waters’ fast-and-easy flatbread—but that would mean turning up a stovetop burner all the way to medium.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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