Baba Ghanuj

The secret to getting a great flavour and texture in this simple mixture of cooked puréed aubergine, sesame paste and strained yoghurt relies on allowing moisture to evaporate and condense the aubergine’s flesh. But when you get it right you get an outrageously complex dish that defies easy explanation. Friends taste it and ask me, ‘how do you get that subtle charred flavour?’ and muse over achieving the delicate texture.

And to be honest, the tweaks you can make to this dish while still keeping it pure are many. The way you add the garlic, the type of yoghurt used, the way you spice it or not; these all contribute to the unique signature each cook brings to their baba ghanuj.

To get the best flavour you want to grill the aubergines over an open flame until the flesh is soft, something that isn’t really possible in most homes unless you use a grill or a barbecue. So I char the skins over the flame of a gas hob then bake them with the garlic in the oven until tender; it’s not quite as strong a flavour but very good. A friend of mine likes to char and bake an onion at the same time, and chops the soft onion through the mixture.

Serves 4–6

  • 2 aubergines, about 500g
  • 2–3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 75g tahini (shop-bought, or home-made, see page XX), stirred until creamy before measuring
  • 25ml olive oil
  • 50g Labneh or thick yoghurt (optional)
  • chopped mint, fresh pomegranate seeds or syrup, to finish

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.

Prick the aubergines and sit them over the flame of a gas hob to char the outer surface, rotating them so all sides get burned, then place on a tray with the garlic in the oven for about 40 minutes until collapsed and very soft. Alternatively place under a grill or on a barbecue with the garlic and cook until both are soft inside and the outer surface of the aubergine is charred.

Split the aubergine open on a board, scoop out the soft flesh and discard the skin, and place the flesh in a colander over a bowl. Peel the garlic. Add half the salt to the aubergine, stir well and leave for 15 minutes to let any excess liquid drain away. Then return the flesh to the board, with the soft garlic, and chop finely with a knife. Discard any liquid from the bowl, place the chopped aubergine in it and stir in the remaining salt, spices, tahini and oil until thick. Add the labneh, then spread the baba ghanoush around the bowl with a spoon and sprinkle on the mint, pomegranate seeds and sumac to finish.