Syrian baba ganoush is even better than the more well-known version with tahini.
There’s a little confusion as to what baba ganoush actually is. For long, I thought it unambiguously referred to smoked aubergine mashed with a little tahini. I even gave my recipe to one of Norway’s major weekend magazines, unambiguously referring to it as baba ganoush. Wrong.
Well, sort of.
In much of the arab speaking world, certainly in Syria and Palestina, the smoky aubergine dip with tahini is known as moutabal. Here, baba ganoush starts out the same. But in place of the tahini, tangy flavours are substituted: tomato, pomegranate molasses, fresh herbs. Though perhaps not everywhere. Even the book Jerusalem, co-authored by Yotam Ottolenghi (Israeli) and Sami Tamimi (Palestinian) (and currently in hospital – best wishes for a speedy recovery!), has dedicated a whole page to the debate about which dish is called what. Their conclusion left me none the wiser – they were so reluctant to draw a conclusion they just decided to call their version “burnt aubergine”.
According to the blog Syrian Foodie in London, run by a Syrian doctor living in Britain, it seems the terms are very clearly applied in Syria. Virtually all of the Syrian restaurants he checked (in Syria or outside) referred to the tahini version as moutabal, the tangy pomegranate & tomato one as baba ganoush. Other Levantine restaurants appear to use the term baba ganoush much more ambiguously. I’ve therefore decided to call this Syrian baba ganoush – also because it is loosely based on said blogger’s basic recipe.
While the name may be uncertain, this surely is not: This salad will be on my table for every single barbecue this sommer. The freshness of the tomato, the sweet-ish zing from the pomegranate molasses and the delicious smoky aroma of the aubergines makes this a super tasty and altogether more interesting affair then what most of us westerners perceive to be baba ganoush.
The key to this dish is to burn the aubergine properly. I have a gas stove and put it directly on the flame, turning occasionally. A gas barbecue, stripped of anything separating the aubergine from the flame, also works well. Some suggest to use the grill in the oven at its highest setting, placing the aubergines as close as possible. The result will still be tasty, but in my experience you’ll just never get the same wonderfully smoky feeling a direct flame gives. Regardless of your chosen method – remember to air well. This is the stuff of fire alarm-offsetting smokiness.
Serve alongside a few other mezes or alongside the barbecue. Yields a small plate, enough for 3-4 people.
Syrian baba ganoush
- 2 large aubergines
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a paste with a little salt
- 1 small tomato, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1.5 tbsp chopped walnuts
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- salt and pepper
- Pierce the aubergines with a fork in a few places. Burn over a direct flame or near a hot grill, turning occasionally, until soft inside and completely burnt outside, 10-15 minutes, longer with the grill. When cool enough to handle, peel and discard the burnt skin.
- Cut the aubergine crosswise a few times (to avoid long strings of aubergine) and mix with the remaining ingredients, seasoning and adding more molasses or herbs to taste. The dish can be made a few hours in advance, in which case cover with plastic wrap until serving.