Eggplant Dip with Caramelized Onions and Tahini / by Amy Cantu

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It was another one of those harried days - I felt vaguely grumpy from getting too little sleep because I've become so used to waking up at every little sound my kids make that I'm now an insomniac. Also, I'm a worrier. I can't help it. I lay awake at night thinking about nothing and everything - that weird bump I found on the back of one kid's knee, the persistent grumble in my stomach, why American politics is so polarized, and exactly what time do I need to roll out of bed so that I still have enough time to throw together a lunchbox and get to the preschool on time (or maybe just 5 minutes late)? It's possible, I also drink too much caffeine too late in the day. I digress. The previous night, I laid awake distraught over eggplant dip, and now I stood in the kitchen with Cynthia and Christine passing around pieces of flatbread with various versions of eggplant dip, "OK, which do you like better? Bite A or B? Really? Are you sure you like B? What?! And you like A better? Well you're both no help!" In that moment, it felt like world peace depended upon which eggplant dip tasted better, and I was at an impasse. (I know this sounds ridiculous, and that's because it was. This is also a PSA on the importance of sleep. Don't be like me!) My dad would be the tie-breaker. "OK dad, it's down to you. Which one tastes better??? No pressure. Actually, yes, pressure. You're deciding!" My dad looked at me dubiously, as I shoved a bite into his mouth. "Mmmm, yeah this one tastes good. Kind of creamy." And then I pushed the second bite his way. "Mmmm, yeah this one tastes good too." Exasperated, I cried, "Oh, come on! You said almost the same thing twice!" My dad looked at me like he did when I was a teenager, and I was being particularly hormonal and witchy. He grunted, "Mmm. The second one. I can taste that it has eggplant." The tie breaker - because an eggplant dip should also taste like it contains eggplant. Brilliant! So, here is my recipe for Eggplant Dip with Caramelized Onions and Tahini: The roasted eggplant is silky, the caramelized onions adds deep savory sweetness, the tahini coats the tongue in nutty richness, and most importantly, you can still taste the eggplant! Sometimes it takes a village to raise children, and sometimes it takes a village just to make a bowl of eggplant dip. It's darn good eggplant dip.

Notes: This eggplant dip is a delicious and different accompaniment to a crudité platter, especially if you throw in some wedges of pita bread. The texture is already a bit creamy from the roasted eggplant and tahini, but you could extend the dip and make it even creamier by stirring in some plain yogurt. It will be a different kind of delicious. My dilemma as to whether to include the yogurt in the recipe was great (see babble above), because both versions of this dip are delicious with or without the yogurt. However, aside from using this dish as a dip, it also makes an amazing spread for Chicken Shawarma Flatbread or a fancy pizza, if you will. I repeat, AMAZING. And for this use, I say, no yogurt.

I call for aleppo chile flakes in the recipe, which is worth seeking out. I got a bag on Amazon, and it's now my go-to for chile flakes. Aleppo chile is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisines, and adds a little heat (without being over-powering), bright acidity, and an interesting je ne sais quoi to whatever you sprinkle it on!

Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Serves: 6-8

2 large eggplants
2 medium onions
1 tablespoon, plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided use)
1/3 cup tahini, well-stirred
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon cumin
Kosher salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease lightly with oil or cooking spray. Prick eggplants all over with a small sharp knife, to allow steam to escape while the eggplants roast. (Don't skip this step or beware of exploding eggplants!) Place pricked eggplants on baking sheet and roast in oven for an hour or more, until eggplants are wrinkled, deflated, and scorched in spots. Remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle. Using a spoon, split the roasted eggplants open, and scoop up the soft inner-flesh from the charred skin and into a colander. Stir in a sprinkle of salt, and let drain for 5-10 minutes. Press the eggplant with the back of a spoon to squeeze out any excess liquid, then scrape into a large bowl.

Meanwhile, trim the ends of the onions. Cut the onions in half from root to tip and remove the papery skins. Place the onions flat-side down, and slice them thinly (1/8" thick) from root to tip. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large wide pan (12") over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onions and stir to coat the onions in oil and distribute the onions evenly across the pan. Let the onions cook, stirring occasionally (every 5-10 minutes), keeping the heat at medium-low. Continue to cook until the onions are a deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. If onions look like they are beginning to burn, lower the heat a bit. Once the onions are caramelized, drizzle 2 tablespoons of water into the pan, scrape up the brown bits (fond) from the bottom of the pan, and stir it into the onions. Remove onions from heat, and let cool.

Stir the eggplant around a bit to loosen it up and make a chunky paste. Add caramelized onions, 1 tablespoon olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, kosher salt, and aleppo pepper flakes or black pepper, to taste. Stir well and taste again to adjust seasoning.

Transfer dip into a serving bowl. Drizzle the final tablespoon of olive oil over the dip, and sprinkle with another pinch of aleppo pepper just before serving with pita bread wedges and sliced vegetables.