Eggplant is a handsome man, capricious in preparation, with an unforgettable taste when properly handled. It has a hard skin, but a soft and pleasant core. The oriental prince of vegetables with a plurality of minerals and vitamins with antioxidant and anti-cancer properties; lowering cholesterol and improving blood flow.
Frankly, I think Russians don’t know how to cook eggplants in a proper way. They usually fry it with a cheese crust or bake it with the chicken breast, generously topping this entire dish with mayo. Thus, the taste of eggplant is completely lost against the other components. In addition to the incorrect combination of products, eggplant in Russia is not usually well done, which makes it bitter and tough. This Southern character is not easy to master I must confess!
But Lebanese know a lot about cooking the eggplant. This is not surprising, as thanks to Arabs in particular this dark purple vegetable was spread throughout the world! They stuff it with minced meat, bake in tomato sauce, mix with other vegetables, and each meal is a tasty example of well matched combinations in Lebanese cuisine. However, I love the eggplant in its pure form, as a creamy and very fragrant paste. This dish or rather a traditional Lebanese appetizer “mezze” is called mutabbal or mtabbal.
Mutabbal has an extremely simple recipe. It consists of the following ingredients: 1 large eggplant; 1-2 cloves of minced garlic; 3-4 tablespoons of tahini paste; olive oil and lemon juice. All this must be mixed to form a paste. It would seem so easy, but there is a little secret in this recipe. And it lies in the eggplant preparation!
You have to choose a big, juicy and meaty eggplant. I’ve never seen such in Russia (maybe only in the south of the country), but they sell it in every local grocery store here, in Lebanon. Now the preparation! Of course, the eggplant can be baked in the oven or worst case, deeply fried on the pan. But the most delicious and fragrant version comes from baking it on the gas stove-top, directly on fire. In this case the eggplant is softened and smoked. It usually takes around 20 min. for an eggplant to get soft enough. We don’t need the skin for our mutabbal paste, therefore we can easily get rid of it under running water.
After this procedure all the rest is very easy. Mutabbal can be served warm or cold. All the ingredients should be mixed, poured with olive oil plus lemon juice and decorated. The decoration depends on your taste preferences. You can leave it as it is or you can sprinkle dried mint, parsley or pomegranate seeds on top of the paste. Some people also add a plain yogurt to mutabbal, but this is not my thing at all.
Mutabbal can be eaten in different ways: with a fork, with thin Lebanese bread or as a dip with nachos chips. It goes well with almost everything, especially meat.
Enjoy your snack and sahten!