Thursday, August 22, 2013

Just as Good as Hummus: Palestinian Smokey Eggplant Dip

Now if you love hummus, (and I know that a lot of you just can't get enough hummus), you have got to try its smokey cousin:  eggplant dip.   It's a hearty dip made from the same ingredients as hummus except with eggplant instead of chickpeas.  This dip has it all going on: creamy, smokey, garlicky, a little nuttiness from the tahini, and texture from mashed soft eggplant.  Mmm, mmm, mmm. 

For many years, my (American) father preferred hummus over imtabbal.  It wasn't until my Uncle Yousef came to visit us in Jerusalem after years of living in Texas, and made this dish for our family one afternoon, that my father fell in love with it.  What did my uncle do differently?  Nothing really.  He just added a handful or two of garlic.  A handful or two.  We couldn't stop eating it and we've been eating it ever since.  My mother goes easy on the garlic, but I still like it extra garlicky. 

Let me give you five reasons to try eggplant dip instead of hummus:

1.  No food processor needed.  Just mash with a fork or a masher.  Easy peasey. 

2.  You don't have to soak or cook anything.  Throw your eggplant on the grill, stir up the tahini and lemon juice, and you'll be done in no time. 

3.  This is dip is mostly vegetable.  Besides soft, warm Arabic bread, I also love to dip red peppers into this dip, or even a sweet carrot stick.  Vegetables dipped in vegetables? Maybe not strictly tradition, but definitely healthful and delicious.

4.  Your tahini jar is getting a little bored.  I am not a one-trick-pony, she says.

5.  This dip will wake up a party, picnic or barbeque.  Everyone seems to bring hummus to a potluck but who bring eggplant dip?  You do, that's who!

What Should We Call this Dip?

 In many parts of the Arab world, it is called baba ghanoush or baba ghanoujBaba is the pet word for father, and one source explains that this name translates to "spoiled old daddy."  The story goes that the inventor of this dish mashed an eggplant to feed her aging and toothless father.*  In Palestine, we call it mutabbal baitinjan, or eggplant dip, and my mother, who speaks a Northern Palestinian Arabic, pronounces this as imtabbal baitinjan.  You can, of course, call this dish anything you like. 

Rhoda's Secrets to Amazing Eggplant Dip

I have to tell you, my mother's imtabbal is simply amazing.  She has perfected this dip.  She smokes and grills her eggplant until it is soft and limp, then scoops out the soft flesh from its charred skin, stirs in a generous amount of creamy tahini and tangy lemon, salts it and crushes in a little garlic.   My brother-in-law and I are both a little picky about flavors (we have decided that we are 'super tasters') but this is one dish that we both just can't get enough of.  All of her friends ask her for it and she has developed a reputation for making the very best eggplant dip around.

What makes your imtabbal better than others'?  I ask my mother.  Well, she says, I am not cheap with my tahini. I use enough to make it creamy and flavorful.  I also never use a food processor.  That ruins imtabbal.  And I grill my eggplant until it is soft and limp, like a deflated balloon.


Got it. 

When I watched her make it, I noticed a few other things that she did really make her dip.  She is very selective about which eggplants she uses.  She only chooses fresh, firm, plump eggplants, because older ones have darker seeds in them, which will make the dish bitter.  She also doesn't  dump the tahini-lemon sauce into her mashed eggplant and assume that the quantities will be right.  She slowly incorporates the tahini-lemon sauce into her eggplant, tasting as she goes, and watching for the pale, creamy consistency to emerge.  Once it gets there, she stops.  If she has a little leftover tahini-lemon sauce, she puts it aside for another use, such as a salad dressing or a sauce for chicken or fish, or she freezes it for another day.

These are the little touches that make her imtabbal baitinjan the best around. 
Serve this with torn pieces of warm Arabic bread, or spread some on slices of good grilled sourdough bread for a to-die-for appetizer. 


Eggplant Dip, or Muttabal Baitinjan

1 large eggplant
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons water, if tahini is thick
1/2 tsp sea salt
1-2 clove of garlic, pasted or minced
Garnish with chopped parsley, olive oil

Tahini-lemon sauce
1.  Leave the eggplants intact, but wash, dry and prick deeply all over with a fork.  Roast until very soft and limp, for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your eggplants.  You can roast this on a grill,  or over the open flame of a gas stove.  The skin will be charred, and the

2.  Let your eggplants rest on a platter for ten minutes.  A pool of liquid will form below them, and you can discard this.

3.  In a small bowl, mix together tahini, and lemon juice, until creamy and pale.  If it is thick, you can thin it with a little water.  It should be fairly thick (see picture).

4.  Cut each eggplant with a long stroke, from top to bottom, then scoop out flesh away from the skin, into a bowl.  Mash it gently with a fork or a potato masher.

5.  Add in your tahini sauce a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.  If you have extra tahini-lemon sauce, you can freeze it or reserve it for another use (see links below).  Add salt and crushed garlic.  Stir in some chopped parsley, if you like.  Taste and see if you think it's perfect - add another squeeze of lemon juice or sprinkle of salt to make it just right.

May this double your health.

Related Posts:

*How to Make Really (Smooth) Authentic Hummus
*Spotlight on: Sesame Paste, or Tahini
*How to Make Tahini
*Basic Tahini-Lemon Sauce
*Sourdough "Pita" Bread

From the Lands of Figs and Olives, by Habeeb Salloum and James Peters


  1. Just got eggplants in my CSA box today. Going to give this a try!

  2. Though I still ended up doing it in the food processor, it was great! Even the 8 month old seemed to like it. Thanks!

    1. I am so glad that you liked it! Many people make it in a food processor and though we don't prefer the texture, it might actually be easier for a baby to eat a pureed dip. Yum, yum. It makes me so happy to hear that you are feeding your baby such delicious real foods!

  3. I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog! Such good, nourishing, simple foods, and I enjoy learning the culture behind them. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so very much, Sarah. What a kind and encouraging comment!


Trying this recipe? A question or a comment? I'd love to hear from you!