I fell in love with baba ghanouj when I lived in San Francisco; Kan Zaman, just around the corner in the Haight, made the tastiest version. This Middle Eastern dip is the less known cousin of hummus, pairing equally well with pita bread and made just as easily from scratch. Unfortunately, I’ve seen baba ghanouj recipes that are as flavorless and bastardized as the premade hummus popular in American grocery stores. Some even get the dip’s distinctive flavor by mixing in liquid smoke. Ew.
We spent a season working to replicate the Kan Zaman version—or at least my memory of it—and taste-testing it whenever we had people out for a sail or over for dinner. After grilling the eggplant to get a fabulous smoky flavor, we knew we had our recipe. If you grill, puree, and freeze the eggplant, you can make baba all year. The same goes for onions: grill, dice, and freeze for a year-round dip that will make you the hit of any party.
2 cloves unpeeled garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cut the eggplant in half (if using small Japanese eggplant) or into thick slices (if using a large oval Italian one). Drizzle or brush the cut surfaces with oil and place on a medium-hot grill; put the garlic cloves on the medium-low edge of the grill if you plan to make the dip fresh. Grill each side of the eggplant about 3–5 minutes, until soft and slightly charred; let the garlic go another 10 minutes, until the cloves are soft. Let both cool until easy to handle.
Remove as much peel as possible from the eggplant, scooping the flesh into a food processor; you should have about 1 cup. Puree until smooth, or the desired texture. If you’re not making baba ghanouj straightaway, cool the puree completely and then freeze in a 1-cup container.
When you’re ready to make your dip, put your defrosted or fresh eggplant puree into a food processor. Remove the skins from the grilled (or roasted) garlic. Add the garlic, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, and salt to the food processor; blend until smooth, or the desired texture. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Makes about 1-1/4 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- When eggplant season is on, we grill up as many pounds as we can harvest in one go. Simply run it through the food processor in as many batches as necessary, fill multiple 1-cup containers, and then stash them all in a large zip-close freezer bag for easy winter access.
- When making this dip fresh, we grill the garlic at the same time as the eggplant—and onion if we’re double dipping (see below). When I make it in winter, I roast a whole head of garlic in its skin and wrapped in foil in the toaster oven at 350°F for about 30 minutes, until the cloves are soft; if you have something else going in you full-size oven, just throw the garlic in at the same time. I save the extra cloves to spread on toast with goat cheese or mix into Braised Breakfast Potatoes later in the week.
- The grilled or roasted garlic gives a lovely mellow flavor, whereas the sharpness of fresh garlic stands out harshly. If you forget to roast the garlic, however, don’t worry; America’s Test Kitchen recommends grating the garlic and then soaking it in the lemon juice for 10 minutes before continuing with the recipe to mellow the flavor.
- If you don’t have tahini on hand, you can make your own: blend 2 tablespoons sesame seeds in a food processor until smooth, blend in 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and then slowly add 1/4 cup tepid water while blending until a paste forms. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Twice as Tasty
There is nothing quite like the taste of a caramelized onion. Whereas even the sweetest onion has a bite when eaten fresh, the harshest one becomes candy with some time on the heat. And of course, my preferred way to caramelize is to grill.
We grill onions as a preparation for canning many goodies, including pasta sauce, salsa, and jam. But I also stash bags and bags of grilled onions in the freezer to throw into everything all winter. Although it would be nice to just dry and store onions in bags for winter use, there’s something about the size of my house, its woodstove-influenced heat swings, and the cold Montana winters that makes onions rot after just a couple of months. But it’s surprising how many onions fit into a 1-quart zip-close bag. Summer or winter, you can drop their flavor into a dip that will keep onion lovers happy.
Grilled Onion Dip
2 cloves unpeeled garlic
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1/2 cup Fresh Yogurt
1/2 cup Homemade Sour Cream
1/4 cup onion tops, scallions, or chives, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Slice the onions in half, cutting around the middle of each, instead of from the stem to the root, and removing a slice each from the hard root end and the top stem end. Place on a medium-hot grill; put the garlic cloves on the medium-low edge of the grill. Grill the onions about 5 minutes each side, until soft and showing grill marks; let the garlic go another 10 minutes, until the cloves are soft. Let both cool until easy to handle. Remove the dried outer skins, and then place the rest in a bowl and let cool completely.
Coarsely chop the onions and garlic, and then put the pieces into a food processor. The onions likely released some dark brown grilled “juice” as they sat; add this to the food processor as well and process until chopped to your preferred texture. Add the fresh dill and process briefly until combined. Scoop into a bowl, and stir in the yogurt, sour cream, and green onion tops. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover, refrigerate for 1 hour to blend the flavors, and then taste and adjust the balance as needed. Serve with pita or potato chips, toasted sourdough bread, or raw vegetables, or use as a baked potato topping. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- If you’re planning to combine this with Baba Ghanouj, simply grill a whole head of garlic and use the portion you need in each recipe. If your grill can accommodate the garlic, eggplant, and onion in one go, even better.
- You can make this dip while preparing onions for winter use. Just fill an entire grill tray with onions, freeze the excess halves on trays, and then dice them while still semifrozen, so that they’re easier to chop, before sealing them in zip-close freezer bags.
- You can freeze the onion juice in the bags too, but the onions will be more likely to clump up. Instead, add the grilled juice to taste to the dip or set it aside for use in another meal that week. Then, in winter, pull out a bag of frozen onions, roast a fresh head of garlic, and substitute dried herbs for fresh.
- We often make our own Fresh Yogurt, letting it sit long enough to develop a rich tang and draining it as needed to develop the thickness of traditional Greek yogurt. If your yogurt and sour cream seem too mild, add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice to the dip.
- Although this dip packs a powerful flavor punch as is, sometimes it can’t hurt to go big, especially if you’re looking for a hot option in winter. Spoon the dip into a small casserole dish, grate 1/2 cup of extra-sharp Cheddar cheese over the top, and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, until the mixture bubbles around the edges. Eat as soon as it’s cool enough to swallow.