Saturday, August 1, 2009

Use it Or Lose It Challenge: Baba Ghanouj and Pita Bread

Oh my.  So bad with the blogging.  Have been housesitting, beloved friends are in town, school is uncomfortably close and I'm still kind of in denial about that.  But my Visa bill isn't.  New editions of textbooks so insanely expensive and questionably necessary.  Also cat*.

Anyway.  I've been feeling it lately---the sense that almost nothing cooking-related truly is insurmountable.  A year of learning to make it or learning to live without it, for both my wallet and waistline's sakes, has yielded a surprising benefit: I find myself almost without fear in the kitchen.  It's a powerful feeling, one which, if most Americans felt, would surely cause them to believe in their own resourcefulness.  We might not actually need everything sold to us.  What we need is a little confidence, some whole ingredients, and the conviction that it is worth it to take the time to cook from scratch.  Michael Pollan wrote an essay that ran in the New York Times that travels along these lines as well.

This feeling really hit me the other day when I found myself with two eggplants from Mama L's garden that were pretty much on their way out.  The last time I was up at her house in the country, we challenged each other to make baba ghanouj, the smoky, delicious eggplant spread that I have had few qualms about paying (albeit infrequently) over $3 for a tiny plastic tub of.  But, it turns out, I can make many times that amount in not much time and for not much cash.  It's ridiculously easy.  What will you do with the rest of your afternoon?  Make pita to go with it, obviously.  

Baba ghanouj has also become so commodified and omnipresent in supermarkets, like hummus, that when I tasted my own homemade spread, I was taken aback by how vibrant the eggplant flavor was.  Duh.  Mama L didn't grow "natural smoke flavoring" in her garden.  Or preservatives.  Anybody else out there feeling particularly reclamatory these days?

So it doesn't taste the same as the grocery-store stuff.  But it tastes pretty darn good, and it makes enough to snack on or spread on sandwiches for weeks.  I bet this would freeze well, too.  Tonight for supper club, my roommate, Kevin, is making lamb curry and re-creating this pita recipe, and I've offered the leftover baba ghanouj up to the wolves.  If there's any left over, I'll let you know.

Baba ghanouj
From Bon Appetit, September 2002

2 one-pound eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tahini (Mediterranean Grocery: between tahini and tonight's lamb, you never fail)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 medium lemon?)
1 garlic clove (USE MORE)
Pita bread wedges

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.  To roast the eggplant, you can either cut Xs in them or halve the lengthwise.  In any case, rub a little olive oil on them and roast until they are soft and somewhat deflated-looking.  45 minutes-1 hour.

While this is happening, skip down to the pita bread and start that, because it's got to rise for an hour and a half.  

When the eggplant is done roasting, let cool, then scoop out the pulp and let it drain in a sieve over the sink.

Transfer the pulp to a food processor/blender.  Add  the oil, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, and blend until almost smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Yes, it's that simple.

Onward!  To Pita-Bread-Land.

Pita Bread
From NPR's Kitchen Window Series

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups AP flour
2 cups whole wheat flour (for what it's worth, I use King Arthur flour because it's one of the few unbleached flours I can find.  Because the thought of bleach in my bread freaks me out a little.  I've never had a bad KAF experience)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the yeast, sugar, and water together until it just starts to foam.  Let it sit for 5-10 minutes.  You can do this in a fancy KitchenAid stand mixer (with a dough hook!) if you have it.  I don't, so I mix with a fork, then by hand (which is arguably more fun).

Add the all purpose flour and mix with your hands/paddle attachment for 2 minutes.  

Add whole-wheat flour, salt, and olive oil and mix til combined.  Then switch to a dough hook/continue using your hands and knead for 5 minutes until the mixture is homogenous and a little bit tacky.

Remove from the bowl and knead by hand for a few minutes.  Form into a ball.  Here, I put mine into a larger mixing bowl, because I've made this before and I know it will double in size and I wanted it contained.  Cover and allow it to rise for about an hour and half, until doubled.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to its highest setting.  If you have a baking/pizza stone, preheat that as well, or, failing that, an oven-proof skillet.  Enter trusty vintage Macy's cookware in Harvest Gold.  

Gently punch down the dough and pull off small amount at a time---about the size of my fist was how I measured.  Roll the dough out into a circle, as thin as you can get it.  

Place the dough circles onto the preheated pizza stone/skillet, 1 or 2 at a time, and bake until all puffy but not crispy, about 2 minutes.  Wrap them in a kitchen towel as you cook the rest.  Cut into wedges and serve with the baba ghanouj.  Also good the next day brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, and baked until crunchy.

Pretty good, not hard, plenty of noms left over for lunch.

*I have adopted a kitten with objectionably sharp claws and a propensity to entwine herself around my feet while I am cooking.  Her name is Chewbacca and she would prefer that I be cooking sausage instead of this wimpy veggie stuff.

She is also seemingly too lazy to walk to her water bowl.  I think we are going to make a good pair, Chewie and me.

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