Popular throughout the Levant, in other words prevalent from Egypt and North Africa to Turkey via the Middle East, baba ghanoush is a full-flavored eggplant dish that makes an appearance at the table as a dip, side dish or salad item. The smooth to chunky dip has a strong smoky flavor from the charring of the eggplant skins, combined with aromatic garlic and lemon notes, with tahini, a paste made from sesame seed, optional. Consequently, there is already a lot on offer for the taste buds to grapple with, making baba ghanoush ideally paired with light, simple ingredients.
Baba Ghanoush Basics
This ubiquitous eggplant dip is vegan, gluten-free and surprisingly healthy, with about 100 calories per serving, but no cholesterol or trans fat, according to a recipe posted on the ABC News website. There is no need to tarnish its health benefits by pairing it with something less wholesome. Typically, baba ghanoush makes up a Middle Eastern meze of assorted dips, along with humus and tzatziki, with numerous varieties across the region. Despite its strong garlic aroma, the dip is even a popular breakfast item during Ramadan. Bear in mind that combined, a meze platter can deliver a heavy dose of oil and tahini, so dipping items should be delicate, fat-free and neutral in taste.
Given baba ghanoush’s Middle Eastern background, pita bread is typically selected as the dipping agent of choice, not only because of its ready availability, but also because it is sturdy enough to support a generous serving of the spread, even when cut into wedges. BBC Good Food recommends a flatbread such as maneesh, with its herb and sesame seed topping, but Indian naan or roti breads work just as well. If flatbreads are not available, chips or crackers will also do, especially those varieties that contain cumin or spices to enhance the baba ghanoush’s flavor.
Dusted with paprika and parsley and drizzled in olive oil, baba ghanoush can present an alluring spectacle that is hard to resist. Go at it armed with a succession of pita wedges and diners could soon find their appetites dulled before the main course has even arrived. A better alternative is to probe it in moderation with raw, sliced vegetables such as celery, carrot or even sweet pepper. The vegetables’ crunch and sweetness will complement the density and mouthfeel of the baba ghanoush pleasantly, without satiating the appetite entirely.
Across most of the Mediterranean, baba ghanoush is served as a dip, but in certain areas it stakes a claim to the main course as a fully fledged side dish. In Egypt, for example, baba ghanoush can be paired with grilled meat such as lamb and steak, or freshly grilled fish. In this respect, the dip is recast as a grilled eggplant puree whose spicy undertones and garlic notes will bring out the stronger flavors of barbecued or grilled meats. While dipping fish into baba ghanoush might be an awkward enterprise, strips of lean steak are more than capable of holding the dip, which can be prepared in a coarser form accordingly.
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