As part of moving to the Baltimore/Washington corridor, I was requred by the Secuity Unit of the Baltimore Urban Reaches Board (SUBURB) to purchase a gril. After much negotiating, which consisted mainly of me pointing at grills at Lowe's saying "How about that one?" and the Redhead saying "No" when she saw the price, we settled on a classic and inexpensive charcoal Weber kettle grill.
One of my friends says that the difference between cooking on charcoal grill and a gas grill is 40 minutes. I don't disagree that charcoal takes longer than a propane tank grill to get going, but I do like the flavor that smoke from the charcoal gives the food cooked on it. In our case, that food includes portobella mushrooms, fish, corn, and for this dish - eggplant.
Baba Ghanoush is a classic Middle Eastern dish usually served with pita as a starter or as part of a mezze-style dinner with hummus and a parsley and lemon salad. Smoky charred eggplant is blended with tahini, a thin paste or thick sauce (depending on your perspective) made from sesame seeds, and good olive oil. A touch of salt and a hint of garlic seal the deal. You can find tahini in most supermarkets with a decent ethnic foods section or in any Arabic/Persian market.
You could make this dish without a grill. If you do, first char the eggplant lightly with your broiler or with gas burners before baking it on a cookie sheet to soften up the flesh.
Griled Baba Ghanoush
1/4 cup vegetable oil for prepping the grill
1 good sized Italian eggplant - about 1.5 pounds.
1/4 cup tahini
3-5 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
chopped parsley or a pinch of sumac to garnish
First start your grill and get your coals hot. I use a chimney-style starter and a little newspaper. You'll know the coals are ready when a light gray ash coats them all. I don't recommend using matchlight or other charcoal soaked with lighter fluid. It may give a gasoline taste to any food cooked on the grill.
Move all the coals to one side of the grill. This gives a choice of using a direct or indirect heating method with the egplant. It also lets you add other items to the grill, like the shallots I grilled for a recipe for shallot-yogurt moosir that I'm working on.
Using tongs, dip a wad of paper towels in the vegetable oil and wipe the grill lightly with it. This will help prevent food stickage.
Poke a few holes in the eggplant with a fork or knife all over the body of the vegetable. Place the eggplant directly over the coals. Put the lid back on the grill and leave the smoke holes about half open. After 15 minutes, check on the eggplant. Flip the eggplant so the cooked side is up and replace the lid. Cook another 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, if the eggplant isn't soft throughout, either continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes on the grill, or finish the eggplant in a 375 F oven until it is soft, but not without structure throughout.
Peel the finished eggplant. Leave some charred bits clinging to the veg, but get most of the tough skin off. Cut the eggplant into 1-2" chunks. Precision is not required as this is all going into the blender.
Ideally, you should wait until the eggplant has cooled completely for this next step. Place the eggplant chunks and the tahini in the blender. Peel and smash the garlic cloves and add them to the belnder. Using pulses, blend until the eggplant is a lumpy paste. Add a pinch of salt. Add the lemon juice a bit at a time, blending lightly, until you like the flavor. Put the blender on a low setting and slowly drizzle in the olive oil, stopping to taste occasionally until you are staisfied with the texture.
Cool completely in a refrigerator, preferably overnight so the flavor can develop more. Serve with pita wedges.