Smoky Eggplant Dip

April 18, 2014

DSC_0056One of the things I love about Paris is I’m always discovering something new, and often in the most unlikely of places. Like this dip, a spontaneous grab and go purchase at the end of the day — at Monoprix! — along with some fresh pita that, with a bowl soup, was going to be my dinner.

I already knew the quality of the foods made by the Greek traiteur Mavrommatis (which has a fair amount of real estate in my neighborhood Monoprix) because I’d discovered and gobbled up their hummus twice the week before. So when I saw “eggplant caviar,” I figured it would be wonderful, too.

Smoky, mysterious, and creamy at first bite, this is a whole other eggplant experience, people.

I knew the key was to cook the eggplant over an open flame, something I’d tried unsuccessfully once before and written off as a waste of time. Now I approached the task with renewed vigor — there was a dip to be made, and I needed to do it while the flavors were still fresh in my memory. 

So I turned my burner as high as it would go and placed a fat eggplant on top of the circle of flickering blue flames.  I turned the eggplant with my tongs every few minutes or so to make sure it was evenly charred. Then I put it on a plate and let it deflate like a burned, blackened balloon. I just left it there, and went off do do some other things, and didn’t peel the skin off until it was stone cold. I put the flesh in a bowl and stuck it in the fridge until the next day.

Burning an eggplant is easy. There’s really nothing to it.

The magic happened quite instantly. A minute or two in my baby Cuisinart, and the bulky eggplant flesh (which I’d lazily cut into two large pieces) turned into a silky purée; then with a few other things added, a creamy, smoky dip.

And I turned into all kinds of happy.

Smoky Eggplant Dip

Makes about 2 ½ cups

  •             1 large eggplant
  •             2 cups of Greek yogurt
  •             the juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  •             2 tablespoons of olive oil
  •             1 clove of garlic
  •              sea salt and pepper

1. Turn your gas burner on high and place the eggplant directly onto the flame. Let it cook, turning it as it blackens to make sure it’s evenly charred. This will take about 15 minutes. Remove the eggplant and let cool completely on a plate or in a bowl.

2. Peel the skin off of the eggplant and put the flesh along with the next 4 ingredients in your food processor. Pulse until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.

 

 

 

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P1050467Sometimes my timing is the worst ever, but this is not one of those times. As if being back in Paris again couldn’t be better, the winner of  the annual best baguette competition was announced recently, and as luck would have it, the boulangerie is right next to my favorite weekend flea market, Porte de Vanves, in the fourteenth arrondissement. (I know, right?)

So off I went on Saturday to check out the treasures and the bread. Since I got caught in a downpour while looking at more vintage silverware that I DO NOT NEED, I walked on over to Aux Délices du Palais to dry out. By 11 a.m., they were already sold out of  les baguettes traditions (which are required by law to be made by hand with only flour, water, starter or yeast, and salt and nothing artificial), but the woman behind the counter assured me more would be available in dix minutes, so I bought a twisty stick made out of croissant dough and stuffed with chocolate chips and pastry cream so I could wait it out. The things I do for research, I tell you.

The baker here, Antonio Teixeira, is no slouch in the patisserie department, which is unusual — often a boulanger can make bread but doesn’t make great Viennoiserie. He’s also won awards for his éclairs and Paris Brest, and I read that President Hollande used to send his driver in for croissants for trysts with his (most recent) mistress.

So if you want to do this, too — croissants, not clandestine affairs —  do not make the mistake of buying the curvy ones, the croissants that say “croissant ordinaire.” These are not made with butter. You’ll always want the straight croissants for that.

Another tip: don’t turn them upside-down, or you’ll have bad luck. Maybe that’s what happened with Hollande.

Aux Délices du Paradis will be supplying baguettes to him for the next year, so perhaps someone can tell him about this.

P1050453

I got home a few hours later and tried the baguette. By now, though, it had been banged into a few times by people on the metro and the weather had improved, but the baguette, I’m afraid, had suffered a bit because of the damp air. The verdict: it was good, but it wasn’t the best baguette I’ve eaten in Paris. It was a bit soft and even though the mie – the insides — were tasty and had nice holes throughout, it was really just so-so. Which may have been due to the weather that day or my expectations, even.

I am going back to give the baguette another try and this time, I’m going to as for a bien cuit baguette –which I usually do, but I wanted to see what they’d give me if I didn’t. This one, as you can see by the above photo, was more blonde than burned. When it comes to baguettes, I like them crispy and dark brown so the crust has a caramelly flavor.

I should stop eating so much bread. I know this. But when I’m in the States, I eat almost none at all. In Paris, I feel like I have to make up for lost time, making bread the star of every meal, and in some cases, making bread THE meal.

Is that really so wrong?

P1050456

 

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