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Baba Ganouj on Hot Embers (page 2 of 2)

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Amazing Lebanese eggplant caviar roasted directly over hot embers and served with crispy lavash bread with toppings.
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Seasoning baba ganouj is different in every country and even in Lebanon, there is no two families doing it the same way. The usual ingredients are lemon, olive oil, tahini, yogurt, fresh mint, cumin, salt, pepper, coriander and ground almonds. You can use all of them, adding them gradually and tasting throughout the whole process. Or you can keep it simple and use only a handful to focus the dish on the eggplant pulp's wonderful smoky flavor.

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II. The Toasted Lavash Bread and Its Topping

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Remove the stems from a bunch of fresh thyme and finely snip the leaves.

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In a large heavy-bottomed pan pour half a cup sesame seeds and bang the pan gently against the stove until they are spread in an even layer. Turn the heat on to medium-high and stay right next to the stove. As soon as you see the seeds heat up, start tossing them around constantly until they have turned pale brown. Remove them from the pan and into a plate to stop the roasting. This process turns the bland sesame seeds in a wonderfully tasty spice.

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Combine the roasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds and thyme in a mortar. Add enough olive oil to obtain a thick paste. Reduce some of the seeds to a pulp using the pestle but leave the rest whole for texture.

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Lavash bread can be found in most cities nowadays. We will split each bread lenghthwise, oil and roast it to obtain crispy crackers.

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Using a knife to open the bread pockets, carefully separate the two discs with your hands. It is easy to do but make sure not to tear the very thin bread.

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Heat up a grill or your oven. Brush each bread with a little oil and bake over high direct heat until brown and crispy. You can spread the toppings on top before or after the roasting.

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Continue until all the bread discs have been baked. Spoon the remaining toppings on top.

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Serve the baba ganouj with the crispy lavash bread as an appetizer. I recommend you prepare everything but the baked lavash in advance and bake them before your guests as soon as they get there. A very memorable and sophisticated dish!

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I was inspired to cook directly over hot embers by The Magic of Fire by William Rubel, an amazing book about cooking on open fires. This is one of my 20 favorite cookbooks and I have several hundreds cookbooks in 6 languages. You need to get this book - the recipes are all traditional and yet immensely original. Mr Rubel (www.williamrubel.com) is a Californian home chef versed into literature and gastronomy. He cooked some of his dishes at Chez Panisse, one of America's top restaurants, and yet most recipes use only a handful of ingredients. A masterpiece. Warmly recommended!


Published 17/08/2007
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«This is some of the best cooking photography I've ever seen. I feel like I can taste it.» Stumble upon 30/08/2007

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15 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Sherri
  • on: 17/08/2007
Since where I live doesn't usually get very cold, we don't use the fireplace very often, mostly at nights. But occasionally it gets cold enough to use it during the evening. When it does, I often wonder how I could use it to cook with (I don't have a setup that allows a pot to hang over the fire). One time I thought about using foil-covered potatoes, but I was out of potatoes at that time, and then warmed up enough we didn't use the fire again except at nights.What other foods could be cooked directly in/on coals? Corn in their husks (strings removed), peppers, maybe potatoes without foil and possibly some other roots are what come to mind. I could experiment, but if you or your readers already know the answers it would be neat to learn. Thanks for this post, I'll try it!
  • #2
  • Comment by parshu.narayanan
  • on: 19/08/2007
Lovely and delicate Lebanese dish :-). Eggplant caviar is a very chic name for what is the basis of an everyday (North) Indian take on the same ingredient! Baingan ka bharta We roast it on coals, or sometimes directly on a smaller gas-ring and peel it for the pulp too. Some indian housewives will put delicate incisions in the skin and slip in peeled garlic cloves (the tiny flavourful Indian kind, not the fat China garlic) to cook with the pulp. Once the pulp is ready, mustard oil (extra virgin, or sometimes double pressed harlot)or any other oil is heated, and chopped onions and tomatoes sautéed, and the standard Indian seasoning, turmeric and chili powder and a dash of garam masala put in, with the pulp.The smoky golden-red result is divine with hot & fluffed-out chapatis (Indian flat bread). In fact it stands so much for a smoky flavour in India that I have heard a grizzled Sikh Colonel (who had bagged three Pathan mujahids personally in Kashmir) taste his first sip of Laphroaig, wince at the Islay malt's smoky flavour and say "baingan ka bharta, yaar (pal)"
  • #3
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 24/08/2007
Sherri, you need to buy The Magic of Fire by William Rubel for many other things you can cook in your hearth.

Parshu, this is a very good remark about Laphroaig, it is indeed very peaty! I will try the baingan bartha as a final installment of my aubergine caviars of the world serie. Thanks for your visit!
  • #4
  • Comment by Claudio Lovo
  • on: 29/08/2007
I stumble upon you! Love the pics!I'm impressed!Claudio
  • #5
  • Comment by sarat kumar chalasani
  • on: 06/10/2007
A variant of this is also made in southern India,in coastal Andhra Pradesh. It's spicy onions,green chillies and various herbs are added. It's eaten with rice. I have eaten the Arabic, North Indian AND the South Indian versions.
  • #6
  • Comment by Laura
  • on: 05/01/2008
We call it egg-plant salad here, in Romania; the roasted peeled egg-plants are very well minced (even in a mixer, we don't care much for the texture)and slowly mixed with oil, like in a mayonnaise sauce. You may add a few lemon drops, to whiten it . At the end, when you think it has enough oil you add some onion, minced in tiny cubes. You spread it on bread loaves and eat it as an appetizer.I must say I visited for some time your blog and admire your cooking, photographs and your fine sense of humor. A very very nice blog!!
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 17/01/2008
Laura thank you for your kind comments! Do you reckon Romanian cuisine has lots of Mediterranean influences? How about Turkish influences - before Vlad Dracul cast them out of his homeland, they must have left some cooking tips, right?
  • #8
  • Comment by dan
  • on: 01/02/2008
Romanian cuisine has a lot of influences, ranging from turkish to german (brought by the austro-hungarian empire in the western part of the country) and russian. Eggplant salad as described by Laura above is definitely a turkish import but with a local slant; the cooked eggplant is minced by hand or mixer and oil is added; then it is seasoned with vinegar or lemon, onion, salt/pepper. mmm, yummy. You don't find it exactly like we do it in Romania anywhere else. In summer I eat it almost daily. In winter we may add mayonese, especially if it is made from frozen/preserved eggplant. Great blog, keep it up, I enjoy it and visit often!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/02/2008
Thank you Dan for your remarks on Romanian cuisine! Let me know if you find some emblematic or extremely unusual Romanian recipe. Hope to see you around my blog soon!
Talking of romanian cuisine, some dishes you might want to try:

mici: barbecue-roasted minced meat finger food. Eat with mustard.
ciorba de burta: one of an amazing variety of ciorba (soup, it is a Turkish word), this one is based on tripe, and it is amazingly tasty. It could feature well in your category of perplexing and surprising food...
bulz ciobanesc: baked polenta "pie" with cheese
sarmale: like a cabbage-leaf dolma?
cozonac: a sweet Christmas bread

then there is a whole gang of placinta pies... And many dishes that you also find in other traditions, like schnitzel and various types of sausages.

...it is a very rich cuisine. One fantstic book on the subject is Radu Anton Roman "Savoureuse Roumanie", published in 2004 in French, which should make it very convenient for you.
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 14/05/2008
Walter, I just ordered the Savoureuse Roumanie book, sounds quite fascinating for one like myself who thought that Vlad Dracul had ridden Romanias of the Turks once and for all!
  • #12
  • Comment by anton
  • on: 30/09/2008
I'm a foodie who lives in the Philippines and I just happened to chance upon your site. I must say, yours is probably one of the best foodie sites I've come across. The pictures are fantastic and the narrative is funny, informative, and definitely entertaining.

Coincidentally, we also have a similar eggplant-based dish here in the Philippines. It is essentially an eggplant salad that we eat together with grilled and fried foods, most notably roast pork. It consists of grilled eggplants that have been peeled and shredded, chopped tomatoes and onions, finely minced garlic and sliced chili; mixed with a dressing of light soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated ginger, and some sugar.

You will notice that there is no oil in the dressing, as it is supposed to balance out the oily tastes and flavors of grilled and fried meat or fish.

Anyway, great work on the site. Keep up the good work!
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/09/2008
Anton, thanks a lot for your kind words about my site! Glad you like it, I don't know enough about Asia but would be very thrilled to visite the beautiful Philippines! Your version of the baba ganouj sounds very nice and reminds me one I had in Mumbai.
  • #14
  • Comment by Frans
  • on: 19/12/2009
Hello François-Xavier (FX) - nice name (a bit biased maybe). Anyway, I really liked your presentation of the Levantine dish baba ghannouj. I especially liked the twist to present the khubz (bread) in the fashion of the Lebanese classic 'mana'eesh bi za'atar'. Za'atar is a favourite spice blend of mine, one recommendation is to add a pinch of sumac to the mix . . . and as za'atar is a generic word for thyme or oregano, you can play with the herbs, even try savory. But the sumac adds some special sour notes that pair well with the toasted sesame.

Also, and I don't mean to sound too nerdy here, but I think Vlad II Dracul was just the father of Vlad III Tepes. I think Vlad III Tepes was the heroic but cruel king to drive out the Ottomans, and the one which Bram Stoker based his character from. His father had joined the Order of the Dragon whilst king & thus obtained his title Vlad II Dracul (the dragon). All of his sons thus were given surnames of 'Draculea' or son of Vlad Dracul. Over time, Vlad III gained the title Tepes (Impaler) because of reknowned cruelety in battle, where he executed his enemies bt impaling them on large poles. A grisly sort of crucifiction. Hope I got that all right - anyway, sorry to geek out like that, but Romania has a fascinating history and it's a wonderful place to visit. Yet another foodie destination! Cheers.

Oh, and I really like your blog, recipes, your camera and all your photos!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks, yes indeed, the one I meant is Vlad Tepes, who spend his youth in captivity at the Sultan's court in Istanbul. I will try to add sumac next time we cook this, a lovely spice it is!


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