Mediterranean restaurants are a vegetarian’s best friend. From tangy cabbage salads and fresh tabbouleh, to stuffed grape leaves, deeply spiced falafels, and smooth hummus and muhammara, you will find far more meatless items on middle-eastern menus than in most restaurants, making them a popular choice for vegetarians and vegans. The cuisine is light and healthy, and since it is often served family-style with a selection of small dishes, you can order a variety of plates, and sample a little of everything. The recipe we are sharing today is fun to make, and involves roasting a whole eggplant on the stove, directly on the flame, until it is charred, blistered, and blackened, resulting in an irresistibly smoky flavor and creamy texture. Combined with fresh lemon juice, raw garlic, chopped parsley, creamy tahini, and a few pinches of cumin and cayenne pepper, this tangy, smoky, garlicky dip makes a deliciously healthy snack and is the perfect dish to serve with some warm pita at your next party. Let us introduce you to the Levantine delicacy known as Moutabal.
It is understandable if you saw this dish and thought it was baba ganoush, as there seems to be some confusion over its name. In fact, baba ganoush is also a dip made from puréed eggplant, but includes extra ingredients like tomatoes, onions, walnuts, and sweet pomegranate molasses. Moutabal is similar but leaves out those things, instead using tahini, lemon, and garlic to accentuate the intense smokiness of the charred eggplant. While it may seem unusual to place vegetables directly on a gas burner, this is actually the perfect way to roast the eggplant. If you don’t have a gas stove, you can still make moutabal at home: the eggplants can also be blackened under a broiler. Either way, be sure to turn on the exhaust fan over your stove, but even if you forget (like we did), your smoke alarm will surely remind you. Loudly.
The prep for this recipe is quite simple: you juice a lemon, mince a little parsley and a couple cloves of garlic, measure out a few spices, and that’s it! You will love watching the eggplants sizzle, slump, wrinkle, and smoke on the stove. Once they are fully cooked, this healthy vegan dip comes together in seconds in the food processor. Even if you don’t own one, you can easily chop the moutabal by hand, since the eggplant is so tender it is practically a purée anyway. This aromatic middle-eastern dip is beautiful as well as tasty, topped with parsley and a sprinkle of smoked Spanish paprika, and served with crisp crudités and warm, soft pita bread. This is the third in our trio of middle-eastern dips—hummus, muhammara, and moutabal—and now you have the foundation for a delicious, easy to make, and colorfully festive mezze appetizer spread that will be a delightful centerpiece for your next party.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium eggplants, about 1 pound each
6 tablespoons tahini
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
juice of one lemon, plus more to taste if desired
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour the olive oil onto a clean baking sheet, and brush it evenly over the surface. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the olive oil, then set the pan aside.
Prick the eggplants several times with a fork. On a gas stove, set the heat to medium-high, and place an eggplant directly on the burner. Cook until the skin on the underside is blackened with no purple visible, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, gently rotate the eggplant 90 degrees so another side is touching the flame. Repeat until the entire surface is blackened, then remove it from heat and place it on a heatproof cutting board to cool. Repeat for the other eggplant. When the eggplants have cooled enough to handle, trim off the stem and cut them in half lengthwise. Place them cut-side-down on the salted baking pan, and bake them until very, very soft to the touch, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let the eggplants cool on the pan to room temperature.
When the eggplants are cool, remove and discard the skin, then place the flesh in a food processor, along with all the remaining ingredients. Pulse until combined, but still slightly chunky. Taste for salt and lemon, and adjust as needed. Serve with warm pita or cut vegetables, and enjoy!
— For the eggplants, use the round globe variety commonly found in stores. Japanese eggplants are long and thin, with a slightly different texture, and are not the right choice for this recipe.
— If you do not have a gas stove, the eggplant can instead be placed under a broiler until blackened, then baked as usual according to the recipe.
— While this dip is best fresh, it can also be easily made ahead of time and refrigerated. Just bring it to room temperature before serving since the flavors are less intense when chilled.