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Smoky Eggplant Dippy Spread

There are a million recipes out there for babaganoush, a popular, Middle Eastern, smoky eggplant dip so why am I sharing one more? To me, the actual dip is just a blueprint that you can use to then dress it up as you wish. I like mine kind of thick, so it's also a spread and have found that it's as great smeared on crostini or in a wrap as it is eaten as a dip with a piece of pita bread so I replace the lemon juice with the rind of a pickled lemon. I also love the addition of pickled turnip as much for their sour crunch as for their beautiful pop of colour in what, otherwise, is a sea of grey and grey food is never appealing on it's own. The toasted walnuts might not be authentic but that's how I like it so that's how I make it.

Smoky Eggplant Spread

1 large eggplant
1 clove garlic, grated on a rasp or fine grater OR chopped very finely
1 tsp kosher salt
*1 preserved or pickled lemon
3 tbls tahini
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
about 3 tbls chopped parsley
a small handful walnuts

to finish: Extra virgin olive oil, parsley, mint, pickled turnips, *za'atar, toasted walnuts

 *za'atar and pickled lemon can be found at any Middle Eastern grocery store

Preheat the oven to 400F

Because I don't have a gas stove and didn't want to start the bbq, I used a kitchen torch to char the skin of the eggplant. You can also put the eggplant under the broiler and broil, turning often, until the entire outside is totally charred. You can do this on a hot grill or by setting it over the element of a gas stove top.

Put the eggplant on a foil lined cookie sheet and put it in the 400F oven for at least 30 minutes. Check after that time and if it isn't actually collapsing in on itself, it isn't done. It needs to be so soft that it deflates when you take it out and the top will come off by pulling it gently.

While the eggplant is roasting, take a preserved lemon and quarter it. Scrape out the pulp and discard and then finely chop the skins.

Toast your walnuts on a hot, dry pan, cool and then chop finely.

Let it cool until you can easily handle it then scrape all of the flesh out on to a cutting board, trying to not get any skin in there. Pick through it to make sure you remove all the dark skin and then put it in the food processor with the garlic, kosher salt, lemon rind, tahini, parsely, paprika and cumin and give it a few pulses until it's just mixed together (you can also mix it by hand for a rougher mix) DON"T PUREE IT OR YOU WILL BE LEFT WITH BABY FOOD.

Put the spread in a shallow bowl and if you are not serving right away, cover it and keep it in the fridge but make sure to remove it at least 30 minutes before serving so it's not ice cold.

To serve, drizzle the olive oil around the perimeter of the spread, sprinkle chopped parsley and mint over the top, mound up the pickled turnips in the centre and then sprinkle the toasted walnuts over the whole thing and finish with a pinch of za'atar. Serve with pita bread.

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