Locative Gastronomy and Rasha’s Baba Ghanouj Recipe

Spice Market in Cairo

Some life lessons are best expressed through an “everything I need to know about (x) I learned from (y)” statement.  Like, Everything I need to know about love and relationships, I learned from Tom Waits (future book title), or Everything I need to know about opera, I learned from Loony Tunes (figaro, Figaro, FIGARO!).   There are certain of these axioms I’d love to apply, like the Anthony Bourdain tenet of locative gastronomy – Everything I need to know about local food, I’ve learned from five star chefs (the closest I’ve gotten was an Istanbul self-date). Until the Travel Channel comes knocking with Bourdain’s budget, I’m sticking closer to: Everything I need to know about a location’s food and culture, I learned from Andrew Zimmern.

In Bizarre Foods, Zimmern spends time experiencing different cultures around the globe, by meeting local people who cook.  They are not always cooks by profession (last episode I watched, the people were reindeer herders in Lapland) but people who had a strong gastronomic appreciation for their culture.   The act of preparing food, especially food ‘owned’ within a culture, like Beef on Weck to B’lo, seems to spur intimacy and confidences.  Not in small means, according to both anthropologists and sociologists of food, because food is a life force[1].   Think about how often a good female cook (or presenter of food, like Martha Stewart)[2] is called a “domestic goddess.”  This implies enlightenment from the organization, preparation and serving food. At least, I’d hope a goddess was smarter than I am.

Being part of the preparation of food in Egypt, a country where the top produce is exported as one of its major industries, was certainly enlightening. The whole process of food production in the house in Cairo hinted at intimacy. Not only did I experience how much women in an Islamic, male-oriented culture, will open up In The Kitchen but I learned some awesome recipes.

Preparation began with Rasha, the cook, de-layering from the hijab she wore out in co-ed circumstances to a level of clothing only appropriate around other women and children, which was still very decorous.  As she removed her many scarfs, she would begin talking to me and bustling about the kitchen.  She believes (probably correctly) that people living in Egypt should try to learn Arabic. As she was showing me the ingredients, she would state some of their names in Arabic and have me repeat them back until she was satisfied.   This is great for learning languages, not so much for learning measurements of a recipe.

Baba Ghanouj [3] is eaten throughout the Levant and Mediterranean world, either as a salad or a side dish. Eggplant[4] came to MENA, and eventually the world, from India, so the dish is a nice polyglot cultural experience that shows a lot of the history of the area.  On a side note, baba means  “father” in Arabic, and it’s always fun to me to serve it in the same meal as Um Ali, a great dessert with cinnamon and other spices, whose name means Mother (Um) of Ali.  Yep -it’s the mother and father of all meals.

Rasha’s Baba Ghanouj

Large Eggplant
Olive Oil
4 cloves of Garlic
Optional: Chili Powder, Shallots, Tomatoes, Olives
  • Split an large eggplant in half, lightly rub olive oil on it, then bake it in the over until you can peel off the skin.  At 350, this is roughly 20-30 minutes.  The eggplant should begin to resemble Abe Simpson before you take it out.
  • Chop garlic, onion and any thing else chop-able that you are going to add, like tomatoes or shallots.
  • In a blender, mix all of the ingredients – roughly 1/4 cup of tahini, some olive oil, the peeled eggplant, the choppings, cumin and the juice of at least one lemon.  Blend (actually chop option is preferable, if it’s available) until chunky, but cohesive.  Taste and add more salt or lemon or tahini as needed.
  • Garnish with a dribble of olive oil and if you feel like it, parsley and olives.

Serve with vegetables, pita or anything you want to dip into it.

Eggplant has a really smoky taste to it, so the lemon and salt counteract that.  I’ve also added, for that ironic twist, Guinness, finely mixed it until almost smooth and served it with beef or pork, but that is not exactly its true intention.

[1] Rather than bore you all with this, I’ll just link to a couple of books on Amazon.  Apparently, this is a wide area of study, and even James Frazer, of The Golden Bough, wrote on it. More on this at: Cooking, Cuisine and Class and  From Betty Crocker to Feminist Studies

[2] This occasionally applies to people who “set a lovely table” even if they don’t cook a fantastic meal.
[3] Wikipedia on all things Baba Ghanouj
[4]More on Eggplants, like Sex and The (single) Eggplant from The Sweet Beet, and Cooking Light’s info.

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