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My baba ganoush never used to be any good. It was “blah-ba.” What I lacked was that irresistible smoky flavor. No amount of oven baking or broiling could produce it.

Finally, I tried charring a small eggplant (or aubergine, a term I much prefer) directly on the gas burner, using tongs to rotate it every so often. This is exciting, risky and messy. The vegetable becomes soggy and floppy, collapsing in on itself. It develops fissures that leak and sputter and drip and sizzle. Bits begin to glow.

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Rhapsody in blue flame. Foil beneath the burner is a must!

I continued roasting until the thing was a charred sack of pulp, and then for good measure I cut it in half and put it under the broiler for five minutes to soften up the hard bits at each end. I let it cool enough to handle, then carefully scraped out the pulp with a spoon, getting as close to the skin as possible. This is a delicate operation requiring patience and dexterity. So charred and fragmentary was the skin that I had to pick many bits out of the pulp.

The resulting cup of smoky goodness was placed in my food processor with a clove of garlic, a nearly equal amount of Greek yogurt, one heaping tablespoon full of tahini, and several drops of lemon juice. It’s funny about the tahini. To me, the stuff tastes quite bitter at full strength. I can’t use much of it in a sauce (as for felafel). But as long as I don’t overdo it, it works fine in hummus or baba.

Providentially I had already made Jim Lahey’s famous no-knead bread. I cannot sing its praises highly enough. If you’ve never made it, you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. Spread your baba on this, garnish with a few chopped walnuts, and you’ll be in heaven.

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Bread + Baba = Babaliciousness!

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Jim Lahey, you seductive Devil you! Click for a link to his pizza dough recipe.