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I’ve covered bread here, so let’s move on to sandwich fillings, specifically pita. Hummus or falafel seem like obvious choices and are very easy to make at home if you can get the ingredients. In Ishikawa, chickpeas are mostly relegated to the import stores (and are expensive), and my first blender was a cheap plastic thing that did not like anything with a consistency harder than melted butter. Hummus, therefore, was not a food I could make consistently while living out in the country.
Fortunately, I discovered baba ghanoush after yet another incident where I had too many eggplants. This magical food solves all of the making-hummus-in-Japan problems. This eggplant-based spread uses no chickpeas, which means no special trips to the import store; eggplants are plentiful and cheap; and the soft consistency of the vegetable base means you won’t murder your blender. Instead of tahini, which is also import-store-only, we’re going to use white nerigoma, Japanese sesame paste. Tahini is a paste made of roasted sesame seeds; nerigoma is paste made with sesame seeds that haven’t been roasted, so to get a smokier flavor, we’re going to add cumin.
This recipe is vegan and gluten free.* Baba ghanoush makes an excellent base for veggie sandwiches, though you could cook add some chicken to this sandwich if you prefer. I like to serve it in pita (or bagels or bread) with bean sprouts (the green kind), tomatoes, and cucumbers. For the gluten-free, dip carrots, cucumbers, or other raw vegetables in it; serve on your favorite gluten-free bread; or make a deconstructed pita on top of brown rice or falafel if you get your hands on some chickpeas.
Incidentally, if you are in Kyoto or Nara, I highly recommend Falafel Garden. Not only is this Israeli restaurant a paradise of pita, the bilingual menu has both vegetarian and vegan options are clearly marked.
Adapted from Tracy Schneider’s “Baba Ghanoush” on Al Dente
Yields ~350 mL (1.5 US cups)
4-5 small or 3 medium eggplants (about 400-500 g) (nasu, なす, 茄子)
Olive oil for roasting (orîbu oiru, オリーブオイル)
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped (ninniku, ニンニク)
4 Tablespoons/70 g white sesame paste (shiro nerigoma, 白ねりゴマ/白練りごま)
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (remon, レモン)
2 Tablespoons olive oil (orîbu oiru, オリーブオイル)
1 teaspoon cumin (kumin, クミン)
1 teaspoon salt (shio, 塩)
Freshly ground pepper (koshô, 胡椒)
A drizzle of olive oil (1/2 tsp) to prevent drying
OR Cumin powder
OR Paprika powder (papurika, パプリカ)
OR Fresh flat-leaf/Italian parsley, chopped (itarian paseri, イタリアンパセリ)
Fish grill in gas range
Blender (mikisâ, ミキサー)
OR food processor (fûdo purosessa, フードプロセッサ)
1. Wash eggplants and dry carefully. Heat fish grill or broiler. Remove stem and calyx of eggplant; if the eggplant is too big to fit in the grill/broiler, slice in half lengthwise.** Rub a little olive oil on the skin. Grill for 7 minutes on each side (14-15 min. total) or until the flesh is juicy and tender and the skin is crispy and a little blackened. Remove and let cool.
2. Chop garlic, and add to blender or food processor with sesame paste, olive oil, and lemon juice.
3. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out of the skin with a spoon (or peel away the skin). Add to blender.
4. Blend until the ingredients are incorporated and a smooth puree is formed. If the consistency is too thick, add a little water.
5. Remove puree from blender. Stir in salt, pepper, and cumin. Garnish with a little olive oil (to prevent drying) and lemon peel, more cumin, paprika, or parsley. Store in an airtight container for up to a week or add more olive oil to top and freeze.
*Tahini is gluten free, and nerigoma lists sesame as the only ingredient.
**Some people leave on the stem and prick the eggplant with a fork several times to prevent explosion. This also works.
Nerigoma was not in the calorie counter database, so I extrapolated using information from Eiyoukeisan.com for the sesame paste.
For 1 serving (1/6 batch)
Fat: 13 g
Carbohydrates: 6.5 g
Sodium: 373.5 g
Protein: 3 g