I cannot think of anyone in my family who does not cook, or at a minimum,cannot make at least one thing really well. My parents have always split kitchen duties – my mother would cook, and my father baked. My paternal grandparents had a similar separation of duties, although my grandfather also sometimes cooked. One of my earliest culinary memories is watching my grandfather char eggplant over kitchen burners for eggplant salad. With a mixture of fear (what if he burns himself?) and awe (how is he doing this without burning himself?), I wondered why one needs charred eggplant when baked or otherwise cooked would do just as well. I watched him scoop the eggplant out of the charred skin, and mix it in a bowl with finely chopped onions, salt, and sunflower seed oil, taste, add salt, and declare the dish ready. When I was little, I thought eggplant was gross, so my interest in the salad ended right about there.
Apparently, eggplant is an acquired taste, and one which I’ve acquired in years since. I have since made my grandpa’s salad, and also babaganoush, always baking or grilling the eggplants wrapped in foil. However, I’ve never been completely happy with how my babaganoush turned out, because it always seemed like something was missing from it. So last time I made it, I decided to try it my grandpa’s way. After all, it is possible that he was on to something there.
The difference was startling. While the baked eggplant babaganoush was good, the charred eggplants were smoky and sweet. And I managed not to burn myself at all – though beware, the charred eggplants may leak right over your stove top.
2 medium sized eggplants
1/2 cup tahini paste
juice of 1 or 2 lemons (depending on your taste and lemon size. you will need at least one)
1 cup water
3 garlic cloves, minced
Turn on the burner and place one of the eggplants directly over it. With the flame on medium (you are not trying to burn the eggplants, but to cook them and char them), turn the eggplant every minute or two so that it cooks evenly.
Continue until the eggplants are soft and cooked through. Remove to a bowl and let cool down.
When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and discard the charred skins.
Mince garlic cloves. In a bowl or a food processor, whisk the tahini with juice of one lemon. Add water if necessary. You should have a fluffy paste.
Add the mixture to the eggplant flesh. Add salt and more lemon juice or water to achieve the desired acidity of consistency. Serve with pita bread.