Some like it smoky. If you’ve been cooking out a great deal this summer, perhaps you’ve grown fond of the lingering woodsmoke scent in your hair and clothes (designer fragrance idea: “Campfire”) and that bitter, mineral edge on slightly burnt food. You can embrace this essence when cooking indoors as well; I especially like it on eggplant, and to reinforce that smokiness, with a hint of chipotle, too.
Babaganoush doesn’t have to be the only eggplant dip at your summer party spread. Using a similar procedure, but a different mix of spices, and you’ve got a healthy veggie condiment anew. I’ve spread this dip on sandwiches with cucumbers and greens and it’s a tasty substitute for something more rich, like mayonnaise. It also pairs well with plain old chips; add some chopped tomato and onion to make it chunkier if you will.
A big, meaty eggplant can be intimidating to cook, especially for a single-person household. They don’t keep too well if you cut off part of it to cook one day, as oxidation will attack the other half. But roasting it whole in its skin and blending the cooked flesh, one large eggplant makes a manageable amount of stuff. To heighten that roasty, charred flavor, I placed mine directly on the gas burners to crisp up its skin all around. Afterward, it’s popped into the oven to cook through, but the skin-burning step also speeds up the cooking time, and makes it easier to peel.
Thinking along the lines of babaganoush and chipotle mayo, I skipped the sesame tahini that’s an integral part of the former but added plenty of olive oil to give the dip a glistening, creamy consistency. Fresh, grated garlic and lime juice went in, too. Chipotle peppers, the jarred kind in adobo sauce, can be very bitter as well as bracingly hot. Add one at a time before tasting, and deciding to increase the heat.
The next key to this recipe is time. It just tastes better after it’s chilled out for a day. Works for me, since it keeps for about a week and has proven so versatile. And, I don’t have to worry about using up one giant eggplant in a day.
Roasted Eggplant and Chipotle Dip
(makes about 1 pint)
about 1/2 lb whole eggplant
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1-2 chipotles in adobo sauce
2 cloves garlic, grated
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplant directly on a gas stove burner (or grill) at a high flame. Turn the eggplant using tongs occasionally to blacken most of the surface area of the skin. This should take about 5 minutes. Place the eggplant on a sheet pan and roast for about 20 minutes, or until the flesh is very soft when touched. Let cool for several minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, carefully peel the skin from the flesh. Reserve any juices that pool at the bottom, and it’s okay if some charred bits of skin get mixed in. Cut off the stem of the eggplant. Place in a blender or food processor along with one chipotle, garlic, lemon or lime juice, a couple pinches of salt and pepper, and pulse a few seconds. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you puree the mixture. Taste for seasoning and stir in additional salt as desired. Serve immediately or (recommended) place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight before serving.
(for 1 pint)
1 eggplant (from CSA): $1.00
1 lime: $0.25
1/4 cup olive oil: $0.50
2 chipotles (from a can for $2.50): $0.30
2 cloves garlic: $0.20
Four brownie points: Although its texture is deceptively creamy, you can think of this dip as a smooth, blended salsa. Even though we aren’t eating the eggplant peels here, eggplant does have fiber, Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and is very low in calories. Fresh citrus juice and garlic bump the antioxidants too, and you can always add healthy, chopped herbs, like parsley, for garnish.
Seven maple leaves: Lime, preserved chipotles, and olive oil accompany this otherwise local and seasonal produce-based dish. Eggplants are just in season in home gardens throughout the city at this time, too, and I expect to find many more of them to put up in clever ways from my CSA for the rest of the month.