Late summer bounty: With zucchini and eggplant plentiful, it's time to make baba ganoush

  • Finished baba ganoush -- one made with eggplant and one made with zucchini.

    Finished baba ganoush -- one made with eggplant and one made with zucchini. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

 
 
Updated 9/30/2021 1:23 PM

While we've entered the autumn season technically, the long stretches of hot, dry weather have played with the harvest calendar. Late summer vegetables like zucchini and eggplant are still going strong and plentiful in gardens and local markets. It's time to make baba ganoush.

This Middle Eastern dip is traditionally made with eggplant, but as I know more than a few haters of the elegant veg, I offer a version using zucchini, too. Many people reject eggplant because they don't like the texture. In this recipe, the technique yields a creamy, smoky dip that overcomes this objection.

 

Both versions feature tahini (sesame paste), garlic, lemon and parsley. I leaned into the lemon with the zucchini version and spiced up the one with the eggplant. Both are topped with toasted pine nuts, which give a satisfying crunch. Feel free to adapt to your tastes.

Play around with the seasonings. I used a Middle Eastern spice mix called baharat I had on hand, but you can substitute with equal parts paprika, cumin and cinnamon to impart a similar warm, earthy flavor. Other recipes call for mint or another spice mix from the region -- za'atar, a nutty, tangy mix based on sesame seeds and sumac. I've even used fresh perilla leaves, a Korean herb that tastes like a strong basil/mint combination. Both the tahini and some fun premixed spices are available in most large grocery stores and specialty stores.

Here are assorted varieties and colors of eggplant. The fatter ones vs. the thinner Asian types are best for making baba ganoush.
Here are assorted varieties and colors of eggplant. The fatter ones vs. the thinner Asian types are best for making baba ganoush. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

Also, I don't bother salting and draining my eggplant, as I don't get bitterness with fresh-picked fruits. But you could add that step if you are buying older eggplant. Simply sprinkle the cut halves with salt in a colander over the sink and let them sit for about 10-12 minutes, then blot with a paper towel before baking.

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For the zucchini version, I used an Italian heirloom variety called Ortolana di Faenza. If you can find a similar Italian heirloom, snap it up. Sometimes called Romanesco types, they are pale green, firm-fleshed, almost seedless and meltingly delicious. Zucchini can be bland and watery, but not these beauties. However, their skin is delicate, so they don't ship well and are therefore hard to find in the stores.

Make sure to get the kids involved in prepping the lemon and garlic. There is serious competition in my class about who gets to press the cloves through the garlic press. It reminds me of a Play-Doh gadget I had as a kid, but I think they mostly like how challenging it is for small hands to force the handles together. They struggle mightily but are then delighted when the clove finally gives way to streams of pungent paste. I have them zest the lemons using a microplane grater and show them how to hold the lemon still while running the zester across the surface of the lemon. They are much less likely to graze a finger this way versus moving the lemon back and forth. I once heard chef Rick Bayless recommend the Chef'n citrus press, and it is another coveted tool with kids, making it easy for them to get out most of the juice but none of the seeds.

Try one or both dips as a snack or a sandwich spread. Or better yet, serve up a large platter of the dips with warm pita or naan bread, raw vegetables, nuts, olives, cheese and fruit. We called this "party dinner" when my daughter was young. We'd enjoy it together on movie night, sitting on floor cushions around the coffee table. Many parents ask me about getting their kids to eat more vegetables, and this is one fun way to do so. There is something irresistibly fun and festive about grazing from a communal board, with small bowls of different things within reach, eaten off a snack-sized plate.

Zucchini fresh from the garden can be made into a tasty baba ganoush.
Zucchini fresh from the garden can be made into a tasty baba ganoush. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Another important tip: I teach my students to read through the recipe before doing anything, and I repeat that advice here. Almost all recent mishaps have happened because ingredients got dumped in mixing bowls as young cooks work down the recipe, only to realize later that an ingredient was to be divided and used for different parts of the dish or that they overpoured an amount. Other times, whole ingredients get missed. That's why the second crucial part of cooking from a recipe is to practice "putting in place" or "mis en place." Have assorted small bowls on hand so that each ingredient can be measured, prepped and contained before you begin cooking. It may seem tedious, but it will save time and heartache in the long run.

Whether you make this for a party or create your own family party around the coffee table, may you enjoy discovering or rediscovering easy, tasty baba ganoush.

• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at food@dailyherald.com.


Baba Ganoush

1 large or 2 small eggplants

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoons tahini

2 garlic cloves, pressed

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon smoked sea salt (may substitute regular kosher salt)

teaspoon baharat spice mix (may substitute equal parts smoked paprika, cumin and cinnamon or red chili flakes)

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim ends of the eggplant and cut in half lengthwise. Place halves face down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and let cool in a colander in the sink to drain a bit. Scoop out flesh and place into food processor bowl. Add the yogurt, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, baharat and pulse until blended. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Top with pine nuts and parsley for serving.

Serves 4


Zucchini Baba Ganoush

2 large or 4 small zucchini

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, pressed

2 tablespoons tahini

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 teaspoon smoked sea salt (or regular kosher salt)

2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Pinch of smoked paprika or cumin (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim ends of zucchini and cut in half lengthwise. Place halves face down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until soft. Cool in a colander in the sink to drain off excess liquid. Scoop out flesh and place into food processor bowl. Add the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, salt and parsley. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Top with pine nuts, lemon zest and paprika for serving.

Serves 4

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