Baba Ganoush

This classic Lebanese eggplant dip (more here) is surprisingly easy to make.  The key is to buy small, skinny eggplants.  You’re roasting these over an open flame and the big, fat, genetically modified monsters you get at the supermarket are too thick to allow the heat to penetrate through the eggplant and cook all of the flesh.  We got ours at Livengood Farms at the Reading Terminal Market– local, organic and totally delicious.  Consider this our first entry in the Philadelphia Local Food Challenge!

Baba Ganoush:

3 eggplants, small and skinny

juice of 1 lemon

4 tbsp tahini

2 tbsp mayonnaise

1 clove chopped garlic (optional)

2 generous pinches of salt

1 small pinch pepper

I’m sorry, but this recipe only works on a gas stove (or a grill).  Put the flame on medium or medium low (you want to do this slowly).  Hold your eggplant with tongs and turn it very slowly over the flame.  Do this until the skins are charred completely black and starting to split.

Once your eggplants are cooked, put them in a shallow dish and cover it with saran wrap. You want to seal this so that the heat left in the eggplants steams up the dish as it escapes and helps to steam the charred skins right off.  You can leave this overnight if you want to.

When you bring out your eggplants, peel off the charred skins.  It’s fine if a few bits get into the baba (it’ll have a nice smoky flavor) but you want to try to peel it as much as you can.  If they’re really charred well, they should peel right off, but if you have any problem try peeling them under cold running water or submerged in cold water.

Mash the eggplant in a bowl with all ingredients.  Serve with pita bread, matzoh or gluten-free crackers (if that’s how you roll).  Healthy, smoky, tangy and snackable.  Makes a great appetizer for Sukkot dinner!

If you keep this in the fridge, cover it with saran wrap and push the wrap all the way down onto the surface of the baba, to keep it from oxidizing.

Thanks to Joe and Leftyprof for these instructions!

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Grilled Chicken Nachos

Another totally Americanized dish!  Actually, nachos are border cuisine— at least according to their Wikipedia entry, which credits their invention to one Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a Mexican chef working at a restaurant in Eagle Pass, Texas.  Both countries have adapted the recipe to their own tastes, and various American regional cuisines have made it their own.  Nachos in the US are also a very common ‘plastic’ food, sold with horrible fake cheese sauce at ballparks and convenience stores everywhere.  (Well, OK, I think it’s horrible.  My dear husband, while agreeing that ‘nacho cheese’ is horrible in principle, totally loves the stuff.) 

But here’s the thing about nachos: they’re a wonderfully customizable dish.  They can be healthy or fatty, organic or chemical-laden, a light snack or a full meal.  And they’re kind of like a stew, in that you can get creative and make use of whatever you happen to have in the refrigerator.

 This version was our dinner a few nights ago, and it surprised us by being really delicious.

Grilled Chicken Nachos:

3 boneless chicken filets

Several generous handfuls of good-quality gluten-free tortilla chips (we used Trader Joe’s)

1 can black beans

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (we used the white kind from the Amish farmstand)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tbsp roasted, ground cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Sour cream

Salt and pepper

First, grill the chicken.  We used a cast iron grill on the stovetop– you can do this on a real grill, or just brown them in a pan.  Just rub with salt and pepper, brush the grill with vegetable oil, and brown.  Make sure they stay juicy– don’t overcook!  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roast the cumin in a dry pan for just a few minutes, until it begins to change color and release its oils.  Grind.  (Or use cumin powder, but trust me, fresh is better.) 

Cook garlic in a little bit of vegetable oil until it just barely starts to brown.  (You could also add a chopped onion or some peppers here, if that’s how you roll.)  Add the canned beans, with their liquid.  Stir in cumin and cayenne and slowly bring to a boil.

Arrange a generous layer of chips in a pie pan.  Slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces and put over the chips.  Add a layer of beans and a layer of cheese.  Heat in oven for 10 minutes.

Add a few dollops of sour cream and serve hot.  Other great additions at this point would be fresh salsa, guacamole, chopped cilantro, raw onions, a garnish of sliced lime, and/or hot sauce.  Best served with cold cerveza.


I made guacamole this afternoon for a picnic our friends Wayne and Jen threw in New Jersey. It’s always a hit at parties, and it’s actually really easy. You just get the best, ripest avocadoes you can find, mash them up with a potato masher, and mix in chopped garlic (a few cloves, depending on your taste), onions or shallots (optional– I usually don’t bother) and cilantro (as much as you like– also optional). Then add a generous amount of salt and lime juice—just keep tasting it till it seems right to you. Don’t be shy about the salt, the avocadoes really suck it in. It’s really all about good quality ingredients. Also, if you can, make it a bit ahead of time and let it sit (covered, with the plastic touching it) so the flavors can blend together.

By the way, do you know the best way to pit and slice an avocado? I learned this from Alton Brown. First, get yourself a ripe avocado. If you make a fist and feel the flesh underneath your thumb, that’s about how the avocado should feel when you squeeze it (gently). Use a large chef’s knife. Slice down the middle of the top of the avocado until you reach the pit. Then bring your knife around in a circle until you’ve cut the whole thing in half around the pit. Grab each side in one hand and twist, and it’ll come right apart (if it’s ripe). To remove the pit, take your knife and hack it with a bit of force into the middle of the pit. Twist the knife and the pit will come off, then pinch the knife and push down on the pit to remove it from the knife blade. To remove the flesh from the skin, score the flesh into cubes– just carve a grid into the avocado flesh with your knife. Remove any brown spots with your knife. Then use a spoon to scoop the cubes right into your bowl.

Serve with tortilla chips.