Due to our common love for food, Juan and I enjoy trying out different restaurants all the time, or as much as our pockets allow us to.
And while it’s safe to say that we don’t keep going back to the same food places, we have an ongoing affair with a particular restaurant in our Las Cañitas neighborhood.
Al-Zein, as it’s called, is a simple, no-frills Middle Eastern restaurant that really doesn’t scream fancy at all.
We’d discovered Al-Zein by chance during one of our walks when we’d just settled into Las Cañitas. And because it’s only three blocks from our apartment and has a reasonable menu that doesn’t break the bank (unlike quite a few of the other eateries in our neighborhood), Juan and I started frequenting the place with the excitement of a new-found friendship.
In the small but cozy restaurant, tables are placed very close to each other, making you privy to listening to everyone else’s conversations, and they to yours.
There are drawings in arabic on the walls, and some photos of the Middle East, which somehow always causes Juan and I to wish we had a chance to visit Turkey or some other Middle Eastern country.
And then there is the menu, a simple laminated double-sided sheet printed with the specialties of the restaurant, names of dishes which are as foreign to me as the places where they have originated from.
We usually go with the same few familiar dishes, and tend to order the Shish Kebab for the main course, a dish made out of grilled minced meats on a stick, along with fresh salad and a side of incredibly tasty fries.
But what we love best is the baba ghanoush, a Levantine dish of grilled eggplant puree mixed with olive oil, onions, garlic, lemon and various seasonings.
It’s a creamy dip that goes beautifully on pita bread or tortilla chips, and for every time that we go to Al-Zein, the baba ghanoush has always accompanied our table. It’s become our friendly neighborhood companion, so to speak.
Back home one day, I tried re-creating this dish in my tiny kitchen.
I’d looked up various recipes online, and desperately wanted to make something could bring the flavor of baba ganoush to our dinner table, while adding an Asian twist to it.
I decided to play with the taste of sesame for the additional Asian flavor, while keeping most of the other ingredients fairly similar.
It’s a pretty simple recipe, one that requires less than 20 minutes of hands-on time, but will leave you with an incredibly tasty dip that will go delicious with freshly-cut vegetables, bread slices or even plain chips!
You begin by grilling slices of eggplant until the charred marks are visible, then process them together with olive oil, sesame oil, sesame seeds, yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice and any seasoning of your choice (I used red chili flakes).
When you acheive a smooth texture and consistency (adding additional olive oil if necessary), it’s good to eat!
I hope you’ll enjoy this dip as much as I did! And I hope these flavors take you to some foreign land in the Middle East and Asia!
ROASTED EGGPLANT SESAME DIP (Makes 1 small bowl)
Adapted from: Fine Cooking
1) 1 large eggplant, trimmed at the ends and sliced into 5-6 pieces lengthwise
2) 1 tablespoon of olive oil + more for brushing
3) Salt & pepper to taste
4) 1/4 cup of sesame oil
5) 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds
6) 1/4 cup of plain yogurt
7) 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
8) 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
9) 1/4 teaspoon of ground paprika or ground red pepper + more for garnish
1) Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil on both sides
2) Heat up a grill over medium-high heat and then place eggplant slices on top, grilling until grill marks appear, then flip on the other side and remove when grill marks appear on the other side as well
3) Cut grilled eggplant into small pieces
4) Process grilled eggplant, olive oil, salt, pepper, sesame seeds, sesame oil, yogurt, lemon juice, minced garlic and paprika/pepper in a food processor (such as this Vitamix) until smooth. If necessary, add 1/2 – 1 tablespoon more of olive oil and process for a creamier texture.
5) Transfer the dip into a bowl, garnish with ground paprika or red pepper, and serve with taco chips, crackers or vegetable sticks.