I have remained steadfast in keeping a curious and open mind to this newfound Israeli culture—a culture in which I became quite suddenly and solidly submerged back in the beginning of September.
But there is one thing that sends my jaw to the ground every time—time and time again.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to understand or even grasp this recurrent ability of the Israelis to really push the limits—maybe too far (!?)—when it comes to this one thing...
The thing is this: grilling out.
|Um, this is only round one of three...
Never, never have I seen so few people consume such vast amounts of food.
It’s like these normal-sized humans are eating their last supper (actually, it might be similar to the way I see people stocking up at the store).
It is baffling, impressive, and mildly disturbing all at once.
The past three cookouts I’ve attended have each had a grill master gallantly sweating over the flames for at least three hours. And it’s a constant three hours.
It’s as though (thankfully) nobody has any idea of what a typical serving size suggestion would be for a group of ten-or-so people.
And don’t you go thinking that there ends up being a surplus of food. No no, these people can eat.
I’m pretty sure that everybody—guys included—is pregnant. Who will raise all these babies?
With a nonchalant methodocism, the Israeli calmly takes this kebab or that chicken wing from an intimidating yet beautiful pile of piping hot meat and works through it, bite by dedicated bite.
Follow one bite with tahini-dipped pita, the next with a schmear of baba ganoush.
Then on to the next piece of meat.
I thought in dating John I knew the true measure of the freakish ability to consume large amounts of food. An ability which (I'm jealous to say) often has no correlation to a person’s body mass index.
And yet here in Israel are a thousand Johns, fearless in the face of what appears to be waaaay too much food.
I should mention that since the whole point of this trip is to visit as many places as possible and eat as many various foods as possible, we have a pretty small budget when it comes to cooking for ourselves at home.
That money has to be put toward new flights and new restaurants.
This, of course, contrasts with my need to eat high-quality and delicious foods, so one way we have bridged the gap is by cutting out meat. Buying local and sustainably-raised meat is the only option, and it’s not the most prevalent thing here in Eilat.
So, we skip it. As long as the vegetarian cooking is good enough (which, ahem, the chef being moi I say it is), you won't notice it's absence.
On the other hand, I can't go without pricier items like unrefined sea salt, real dark chocolate, and quality quality organic produce.
That is not to say, however, that we aren’t beside ourselves with excitement when we get invited to one of these cookouts. It’s like we’re suddenly transformed into malnourished orphans who’ve never had a bite of steak in their lives.
It’s beautiful and a little confusing.
But I don’t come empty-handed to these meat smorgasbords. It just so happens that I have become a master of one of the common players at these cookouts: baba ganoush.
|Sooo...I’ve been eating you throughout this entire photo shoot...
Baba ganoush, an eggplant and tahini (sesame seed paste) based spread, is all over the Middle East.
And I’m gonna say it now: it should be all over everywhere.
Like air. Like music. Like macaroni and cheese. Not because it’s healthy, not because it’s vegetarian, but because it’s eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-your-head-good.
And eggplant-haters, step down. Even you will like this.
It’s like eating eggplant clouds, which may or may not be pleasant or even possible, but I’m willing to take the risk.
Savory, aromatic, and earthy—one bite and you’ll be wondering why this hasn’t been a staple in your life.
Feisty Baba Ganoush (Eggplant Spread)
· 1 large eggplant (enough for 2 cups roasted)
· 1/4 to 1/2 cup sesame tahini (add to taste)
· 2 cloves roasted garlic + 1 unroasted, chopped (vary this however you’d like, noting that fresh garlic will have much more of a bite)
· 1/2 tbs dried basil (or 1/2 bunch fresh)
· 1/2 tbs dried parsley (or 1/2 bunch fresh)
· 1 tsp salt (used smoked sea salt if you have it)
· 1 tsp cumin
· 1/4 tsp paprika
· 2 tsp turmeric
· 1/2 tsp hot paprika, cayenne, or harissa
· 1/4 c fresh lemon juice (add 1 tbs at a time, to taste)
· 2-3 tbsp EVOO (depending on how much you used and whatever is left over from baking the eggplant)
Cook that eggplant.
Many recipes grill or roast the eggplant whole to impart a smoky flavor to the dip (and I do recommend this), but I don’t have a grill and it’s just too hot here, damnit.
So late at night, I cut my eggplant friend up into big chunks, slather them with olive oil, throw in my garlic to roast along, and bake for a good 40 minutes or so, or until super soft and beginning to brown.
You’ll know it’s ready once it loses that chalky look.
OK, easy recipe summit time:
Combine everything in a food processor. Boom.
If you don’t have a food processor, mix all of this by hand by mashing the eggplant and roasted garlic with a fork and finely dicing any fresh garlic/herbs, then mixing it all up. This method also lends a denser and more fibrous texture, which is desirable in its own right.
Add lemon juice and EVOO a tablespoon at a time until your desired consistency is reached. I can’t emphasize enough the need for fresh lemon juice and a high-quality EVOO here.
|Did I ever tell you how great it is having an extra tiny food processor?
That's because it's not so great.
And listen, I like really really big flavors.
If you’re typically a chicken alfredo person over a Thai curry, tone down these spices as you see fit.
The eggplant and tahini will happily stand on their own. Honestly
Serve with grilled pita bread, matcha green tea crackers, regular crackers, a spoon, a fork, your hand, whatever.
Just try not to eat it all in one sitting.
|Pita bread? Pretty essential. Matcha green tea crackers? I bet you didn't know that those are essential, too...check out the recipe here!
One of the best things about making this baba ganoush is that if you do it while listening to heavy music like this album, it makes you feel like you’re doing something really intense and important and you’re not just a girl in her underwear with hair that sticks straight up cooking eggplant with way too much enthusiasm.
The Savings : Eggplant is one of my favorite foods because because it tastes great and is sooo inexpensive. You could make this recipe solely with eggplant and tahini and you'd have a nutritious meal full of vitamin A, fiber, protein, and more. It's great to feed a crown because lots of people dont' know what to do with eggplant, and you don't have to tell anybody you spent less than three dollars...
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Also, check out my writer's blog over at RoadWritten.com