Bob Goes Greek

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One of my favorite Dad jokes involves a Middle Eastern appetizer and a used car salesman. You know the one. Guy goes to a dealership, kicks a few tires, and then Bob comes hustling over. You all know Bob: he’s the ex-high school football player with the bad knees, too-small suit, and wrinkled shirt, who greets you with a broad smile and sticks out his hand (this was back in the day before facemasks and elbow bumps). “Hiya! I’m Bob. Bob Ganoosh. Pleased to meet ya.”

Now Baba Ghannouj is a mighty fine Middle Eastern delicacy, almost as desirable as that ’99 Ford Taurus Bob wants to sell you. What makes a good Baba is to fully roast the eggplant until the skin is charred black and the insides have a smoky flavor. It’s then whipped smooth with garlic, tahini, and lemon. A good dose of salt, maybe some cumin, smoked paprika, or sumac, and finished with olive oil.

There are versions throughout the Middle East. In Israel, it’s called Salat Hatzilim. The Greek version has a similar name: Melitzana salata.

The main differences between Baba Ghannouj and Melitzana Salata are two. OK, well, four. (1) No tahini. (2) Addition of roasted red pepper. (3) More rustic texture – chunkier, like a caponata, and not smooth. (OK, I guess there were three.)

My own version of Melitzana Salata is my typical wing-it concoction, made on the fly, impossible to replicate – and that’s just the way I like it. But I will give you a guide here; otherwise there would be no colunn.

1 eggplant

1/2 red pepper

2 cloves garlic

A slice of sweet onion

2 TBS lemon juice

Salt

Aleppo pepper (or sub smoked paprika/cumin/pinch of cayenne/sumac)

Enough olive oil

2-4 TBS chopped curly parsley/green onion for garnish

1. Roast the eggplant and red pepper over an open gas flame, or in the oven, turning frequently, until the skins are quite charred and peel off easily. Alternatively, use a grapefruit spoon to carve out the flesh.

2. Puree the garlic in a food processor with olive oil, lemon, and the onion.

3. Mash the eggplant and red pepper with the pureed garlic/oil/lemon mix; turn a few times in the food processor if you wish, but keep the texture of the finished product a bit rough. Add salt to taste – salt cuts the bitterness of eggplant. Add the Aleppo pepper.

4. Put into a bowl, garnish with a swirl or two of olive oil, maybe a little more lemon and Aleppo pepper, the chopped green garnish, and a fat Kalamata olive in the center. (Note how I say “put” not “place.” It’s a Pittsburgh thing)

5. Serve with crusty toasted bread or pita wedges, more olive oil, and if you’re feeling reckless, some chilled Retsina wine.

Oh – and if you’re sweet on that ’99 Taurus, let Bob know. He’ll set you up with Mel Salata in finance.

 Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil rights litigation. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at Twitter or Face   



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