A Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Kwanzaa to you all! May this season fill your home with joy, your heart with love and your life with laughter. Whatever is beautiful, whatever is meaningful, whatever brings happiness – may it be yours this holiday season and throughout the coming year.
As I lay awake at 2 AM, thanks to jet-lag, I realized that I didn’t have much time to come up with a new recipe for this week’s release. The grocery shopping, the preparation, the measurements, the trial and error, the blotched photographs that need retakes – all take a long time, and with extended family arriving soon to celebrate Christmas with us, I knew I didn’t have the band-width to put out an elaborate recipe.
Instead, I started thinking about the land where Jesus was born – Bethlehem, in present-day Israel – and the strife the areas has been going through for several decades. It never seems to end. The pictures of Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland, the devastated buildings, the trauma that young kids are going through is enough to sadden even a hard heart. Born in the world’s largest democracy, and currently living in the second largest democratic nation in the world, it is hard for me to imagine what it must be like, to be living on the edge of death and destruction 24×7. I recently read a book The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan. The author has done a wonderful job bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to its most human level, suggesting that even amid the bleakest political realities, there exist stories of hope and reconciliation. BTW, if you have money to donate before the year-end, Charity Navigator has some fine organizations that help in the Middle East crisis. Doctors Without Borders is one of my favorites.
Talking about reconciliation, one of the biggest things that brings people together is Food. I envision as families gather around for meals, how food is a great vehicle for sharing culture with people from different backgrounds, surmounting political, religious and ideological differences. “To break bread together,” a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, provoke laughter, explore new cultures and build stronger relationships when we socialize. Oh boy, only if food and music were to rule….we’d all have so much more peace around us, wouldn’t we?
Arabs and Jews both make this well-loved dish. It is an appetizer in several parts of the Middle East, including Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Greece and Turkey. I’ve tasted baba ghanoush in Greece, Turkey and Egypt, and each country seems to add its own regional flavor to this dish. In Arabic, “baba” means father and “ghanoush” means spoiled. This “spoiled dad” dip is the creamier companion to hummus, which has already been featured on our blog. What does it taste like? Uber creamy, decadent, slightly sweet and the perfect balance of savory and tangy from the lemon and tahini. It’s so lush and creamy you can hardly believe it’s vegan and doesn’t require gobs of oil.
Middle Eastern dips and salads like baba ghanoush and hummus are subject to taste. Some prefer “a little more of this” or “a little less of that.” When in doubt, taste and adjust seasonings according to your palette. I’ve on occasion, added a small jalapeño to the mix, to bring a little bit of India into my Middle Eastern cuisine. Hey, why not?!
Here’s to Happy Holidays….and someday….World Peace!!
Because nutrition-rich eggplant is low in calories and high in fiber, it’s a great choice in a dip. Additionally, eggplant is rich in nasunin, which is found only in deeply colored fruits and veggies.
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- 1 Large Eggplant
- 1/4 Cup Tahini Or more if needed
- 3 Cloves Garlic Minced
- 1/4 Cup Lemon Juice Or more if needed
- 1/2 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds Roasted
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil Extra Virgin
- 1 Tablespoon Parsley Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/4 Cup Olives Kalamata or other variety
- 1/4 Teaspoon Sea Salt Or to taste
- Pierce a few holes into the skin of the eggplant (to avoid explosion) using a fork. Cut eggplants lengthwise. Brush a thin coat of olive oil on all sides. Put the eggplant pieces together (to their original shape). Cover the eggplant pieces completely with aluminium foil. Roast your eggplant in a 375 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. Remove eggplant from the oven and let cool.
- Once the eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and discard (or better yet, compost).
- In a food processor or high speed blender, combine salt, garlic, lemon juice, tahini and roasted cumin seeds and pulse to combine. Add the eggplant flesh. Adjust the flavor with more tahini or lemon juice if you prefer. If it's bitter, a little bit of sugar or honey will help.
- Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and spread with the back of a spoon to form a shallow well. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the parsley. Place the olives around the sides. Serve at room temperature.