Boy, Was I Wrong


There was a time, not too long ago in fact, when I dismissed vegetarian cuisine as being not particularly flavorful, even bland.  No matter what else may be said of it, vegan food is unsatisfying.  This was my considered opinion based on all of, I don’t know, maybe two or three experiences.

Then a little over a year ago, health concerns, among other things, made me reconsider the food that went into my daily diet and, by extension, into me.  Not that I had the intention of going vegan, it’s that as I started experimenting with cooking, curiosity led me to contemplate what would happen without relying on animal by-products.

One of you, and possibly more, is a vegetarian and at least two of you married one, so that inspired the search for vegan-friendly recipes.  Sure, the sweets featured earlier are “vegetarian,” more or less, but most of them rely on generous supplies of butter, milk and even eggs, so that doesn’t quite fit, does it?  Today’s dish, however, would satisfy even the most principled vegetarian.

“Satisfy” is the operative word here.  This sweet potato baba ghanoush has a rich, silky texture that makes it perfect for spreading over warm bread, fresh from the oven.  Just like butter, only better.  The bread in this case is the pita found originally in a New York Times article and featured more recently in my souvlaki entry a few months back.  Meltingly delicious.

The baba is even better when drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with chopped chives and some of those spicy Aleppo pepper flakes I had left over from from that eggplant recipe late last summer.  Warmly creamy with a zing; simply outstanding.

Thanks to the July 2015 issue of Bon Appétit, which featured this delectable creation and which showed the error in my thinking.  Vegetarian can be satisfyingly savory.  Enough to put one in a happy place – here’s proof.

Don’t worry, I’m not going wobbly, to use one of Mrs. Thatcher’s favorite locutions.  I’m still very much the poultry fiend and shellfish will make more than one appearance in the months to come.  Still, good eating is possible without them.  Can’t believe I said that, but just look at the picture and imagine.

*****

Grilled Sweet Potato Baba Ghanoush

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 medium) (*1)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (*2)
  • 1/2 garlic clove, freshly grated (*3)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (*4)

Grill sweet potatoes, turning occasionally, until skin is charred and flesh is fork-tender, about 50 to 60 minutes. (*5)

Halve sweet potatoes and scoop the flesh into a food processor.  Add the lemon juice, tahini, garlic and 1/4 cup of the olive oil and process until smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle with olive oil and top as desired.  Serve with flatbreads or pita.

*****

NOTES:

1 – The baba in the original magazine article had a distinct orange tint, which makes me think they used yams, not sweet potatoes.  Not much difference either way, but personally I prefer sweet potatoes.

2 – Tahini  is a sesame-seed paste found in Middle Eastern markets and, increasingly, in better-stocked grocery stores’ “International” aisles.  If you can’t find tahini, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter cut with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil would be an acceptable substitute.

3 – What the heck – throw in the whole garlic clove – it’s better that way!  Note that I said “clove,” not the whole bulb.  With a whole bulb of garlic the dish would be striking, and not necessarily in a good way.

4 – My preference is for sea salt, actually.

5 – If the weather is sub-par, as it was around here this weekend, skip the grill and just put the sweet potatoes in your oven, set to “broil.”  The result will be exactly the same, except you won’t need to brave the elements.

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