Written in the South of France, September 16, 2012
I love eggplant in almost any form. When I see shiny, taut eggplant displayed in an open air market my imagination immediately wanders through all the amazing dishes that can be produced from this beautiful fruit, not the least of which is baba ghanoush – a creamy eggplant dip made with tahini (sesame paste). It’s a simple Mediterranean specialty that I would expect to able to easily prepare in the south of France. But with no tahini to be found in our local markets I’m left with the challenge of finding a reasonable substitute.
We all get used to the things we love and know where to find them. And even though our European cousins generally eat the same foods we do they are not always in the same form or in the same grocery store locations. Take peanut butter for instance. There is no peanut butter next to the jam. In its place are shelves of sweet hazelnut spread, Nutella being the most well-known brand. You will also find jars of sweetened chestnut spread, this being chestnut country. You can find large bags of salted roasted peanuts – a popular aperitif accompaniment – in the snack section next to the chips, but the roasted almonds are curiously missing. Instead you find various forms of raw almonds, from whole to powdered, stacked next to the dried fruit and other raw nuts. I haven’t discovered yet what the French do with raw nuts, but I digress.
Making tahini. I found both natural and toasted sesame seeds as well as sesame oil in our local grocery store. While making tahini should be as easy as grinding the seeds, my food processor isn’t capable of producing the creamy paste found in US markets. I therefore started with seeds
and then added some almond powder,
thinning the resulting paste down with sesame oil to make something that resembles tahini.
2 eggplants, about 1lb each, pierced with a fork and roasted in a 400° oven until soft – about 40 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the eggplant.
3 large cloves garlic roasted, half a clove fresh, minced – Wrap the 3 cloves in a small piece of foil and roast with the eggplant for about 20 minutes.
1/4 c tahini
2-3 T lemon juice – Start with 2 T and add more according to your taste.
1 t toasted cumin seed – Seeds can be toasted in a small skillet over a medium-high heat. After they are toasted, 2-5 minutes, transfer them immediately to a cool plate to prevent burning.
½ t cumin powder
Pinch cayenne (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T minced parsley
Place all the ingredients except for the parsley in a food processor and blend until smooth. Adjust the seasoning. Stir in the parsley, saving a bit for garnish. Let sit for at least an hour to meld the flavors. While it can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, it is best served at room temperature.