Baba ghanoush spreads eggplant’s appeal

Some A la Carte readers may wonder why today’s section contained so many eggplant recipes. Others are likely grateful for the variety, particularly if they grow this vegetable, which botanically speaking is actually a fruit.

Eggplants are still coming on strong, and there’s no better time to enjoy them. Their versatility should be obvious given today’s range of recipes, which globe-trot from Asia to Greece and Italy to North Africa. But in planning the spread, I omitted the quintessential spread itself — baba ghanoush.

Fans of hummus probably know the eggplant permutation of this Middle Eastern staple. The method is simple. Just substitute roasted eggplant flesh (no skin) for the chickpeas traditional to hummus, and add tahini (sesame paste), fresh garlic cloves, lemon juice, salt and parsley. Blend everything together in a food processor and enjoy with crackers, bread or raw veggies.

This is an ideal way to use eggplant that may have withered a bit from sitting around too long. Baba ghanoush also keeps well for about a week refrigerated and even weathers freezing.  

Here’s a variation on the classic recipe that incorporates pesto. It uses the eggplant skin, perhaps because the Associated Press billed it as a quick recipe, ready in 30 minutes.

Pesto Baba Ghanoush

Cooking spray

2 small eggplants (about 11/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons prepared pesto

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Thickly sliced bread, for serving

Crumbled feta cheese, for serving

Lightly coat grill grate with cooking spray. Preheat grill to high.

Spritz the eggplants with cooking spray, then place them on grill. Cover grill and cook 20 to 25 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, or until skin is lightly charred and eggplants are very soft.

Carefully cut off and discard eggplant stems (they will be very hot), then place them in a food processor. Add the pesto, pine nuts and lemon juice (if using), then process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon eggplant puree onto the slices of bread and top with the crumbled feta cheese.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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