I was listening to Mary Oliver read from one of her poems the other day and gulped, shifting uncomfortably in my chair, when I heard her say: Do you need a little darkness to get you going?/ Let me be urgent as a knife, then, / and remind you of Keats, / so single of purpose and thinking, / for a while, / he had a lifetime.
Thus being forced to brush up on my Romantic poetry history by recalling Keats's early death at age 25, I continued to sit, staring out the window as the breeze blew through the still-green leaves and the cicadas raged on like summer would never end, thinking about this abandoned corner of my world. There have been no shortage of discoveries on my end and yet when I sit to write about them, only sparks come from my fingertips -- never enough to get anything coherent to take flame and I think, "Oh, never mind, I'll do it later". Why do we fall silent? Why do we let our tasks and obligations rise up around our throats and keep us from singing?
The eggplant might have the solution. Dark purple, of all colors, and provocatively shaped, eggplants take some convincing. Eaten raw, they're an offensive offering. They require patience; when salted with foresight, the eggplant become less thirsty for the olive oil it craves and roasts with integrity of structure. With care and precision, this spongy vegetable yields to heat and becomes velvet at the final moment, making a wondrous addition to a sandwich or curry. If you find yourself lost for words, as I have over the past few months, charring an eggplant over an open flame will reveal a whole new world and leave you scrambling to your rooftop to sing about this newfound glory.
Charred Eggplant Baba Ganoush
inspired by and adapted from Judy Rodgers and Yotam Ottolenghi
Don't hover over the eggplant if you are faint of heart -- sometimes little cracks appear that sudden steam escapes through that could cause a fright. Let it char and get black! Your whole kitchen will fill with the smokey aroma -- that's when you know you're doing it right. If you don't have a gas stove, you could also do this under the broiler of your electric stove but please don't do it atop an electrical range.
1 medium eggplant
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 c full-fat Greek yogurt or Vegenaise (a bit less if you're using traditional mayonnaise or aioli)
2 T olive oil
2 t pomegranate molasses (available in Middle Eastern markets or sections of grocery stores)
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2 t sea salt
a few cranks/pinches of freshly cracked black pepper
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Turn on one of your gas stove burners to a medium flame. Place the eggplant directly on the stove grate over the flame for about 10 to 15 minutes, rotating every few minutes with a pair of tongs. The eggplant should be blackened all over and slightly limp -- it's fine if it's releasing some liquid. Set aside to let cool.
Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to combine.
When the eggplant is cool enough to touch, scrape out the flesh and discard the charred skin and stem -- don't worry if some of the skin has stubbornly remained -- it's safe to eat. Chop the eggplant flesh until you have almost a paste and then add it to the mixing bowl. Mix well and taste -- add more salt or a drizzle of pomegranate molasses if it needs a lift.
Garnish with parsley and serve with toasted pita, roasted squash, or alongside a crudité platter.
Yields: baba ganoush for 6 or 8, depending
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook (charring) time: 15 minutes