The popular spread known in the States as baba ghanoush—that sikly puree of eggplant, tahini, garlic, lemon, and oil—has been primarily a restaurant experience for me. In Knoxville alone, there were generous bowlfuls garnished with streams and lakes of oil at Ali Baba's Time Out Deli (RIP). There were tastes stolen from a friend's order at Yassin's Falafel House (later learning, alas, there's a touch of dairy yogurt involved). Then there's the stuff from Holy Land Market.
Paprika and liquid smoke can do a lot, but maybe not everything. Having nothing but an electric broiler in the MSV kitchen to char eggplants, knowing I'll never bring myself to load in the oil the way restaurant owners will, and having known Holy Land's exquisitely smoky spread, at-home baba ghanoush has always felt pointless. Until now.
Thanks to Kathy Hester's smoke-infusing method from the deceptively humble-sounding Tea-Scented Tofu(*) recipe from The Vegan Slow Cooker, satisfying baba ghanoush can happen even in electric-only kitchens with no access to an outdoor grill. The smoke-infused eggplant, thanks to a spin in the slow cooker with a dose of Lapsang Souchong, takes on such a deep, seductive flavor that you can get away with surprisingly little added oil and still come out with a gorgeous spread.
Side note: the same method works on sun-dried tomatoes, too. Oh, yes, it does. (Calling all bagels.)
This spread may not look like much, but it's seriously worth it. The eggplant keeps everything silky, the smoke (the smoke!) infusion ensures the eggplant can stand up to the bold flavors of tahini and fresh garlic. Lemon lightens it all up. The unique flavor of the tea adds a touch of je ne sais quoi. It wouldn't hurt to make a double-batch.
Smoked-Tea Baba Ghanoush
1/4 cup loose Lapsang Souchong
1/4 cup brown rice
1/4 cup turbinado
1 1/4 lbs eggplant, trimmed, and cut into large dice
2 small cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup tahini
3 TBSP lemon juice
2-4 TBSP olive oil (or to taste)
1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt
Line a slow cooker crock with foil. Add tea, rice, and sugar, and stir to combine. Place a small metal adjustable steamer basket (wrap the feet in foil, too) into the cooker. Place eggplant cubes into steamer basket. Cover and cook on high two hours. Reduce heat to low and cook two hours more.
Place all other ingredients in a food processor. Carefully add eggplant and blend, adding oil as desired to loosen. Serve at room temperature. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.