For someone who leans heavily towards vegetarianism and was a strict vegetarian for 16 years, I can fall into the same patterns when it comes to vegetables: roast, blanche, sometimes sautee, always very simply, with some olive oil and salt.
Let’s admit it: vegetables are a lot of work. They need to be cleaned, sometimes more than once, peeled, sliced or diced or grated and, even before reaching a pan, they are already time-consuming. And while I see the convenience of buying them already prepped, I am loath to pay the premium when I know how to use a knife perfectly well (my sole exception is squash, as my skin is allergic to raw squash and handling it with bare hands leaves me with no tactile feeling for hours. By the way, I am not a freak and it is not uncommon).
And then there is the matter of what to do with them so they are more palatable to people who don’t gravitate towards vegetables or children. I rarely rely on cookbooks or websites when cooking at home, with the sole exception of Yotam Ottolenghis’ splendid books. His sliced Brussels sprouts with lemon zest have changed my Thanksgiving dinner forever. There is not a single vegetable I prepared from one of his books that I didn’t enjoy.
If you are not familiar with Yotam Ottolenghi, the short story is he is an Israeli-born, London-based chef with a number of restaurants and stores to his name (which, if you are in London, you should take the time to visit) and whose cuisine is very vegetable-centric (but not vegetarian) and of Middle Eastern inspiration.
A few nights ago I considered the eggplant in my fridge. I think I bought it reflexively, after an afternoon spent peeling and cubing an entire case of them, a task that left a blister on my index finger, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to make with it. I looked for the magazine where I had read a story on Yotam Ottolenghi entertaining at home and found a version of baba ghanoush that was visually arresting. I didn’t follow the recipe, which calls for the grilled eggplant to be open and splayed on a platter with all the remaining ingredients arranged on top, but I just put everything together, the better to smear on a crusty piece of bread or pick up with some pita.
I started by grilling the whole eggplant on the grill (but it can be done under a broiler or on the open flame on the stove) until the skin was blackened uniformly and the flesh inside had collapsed.
I sliced it open, removed the flesh with a spoon and let it cool. Then drained the excess water.
I put the eggplant in a bowl and added a grated tomato, one tablespoon of tahini paste, the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper. I mixed everything together. Delicious. The smokiness of the eggplant, the tanginess of the lemon, the unctuosness of the tahini: it all worked perfectly. Not terribly close to the original baba ghanoush but certainly a quick eggplant dish I will be repeating for a long time to come.