Much is written about foods as panaceas against the stress of everyday existence. I’ll be the first to say that a bowl of chicken stew on a crisp November night or a dish of of banana pudding on a warm May afternoon is every bit as comforting as a Mose Allison tune or slipping on an old pair of shoes. But dishes that challenge us should have places on our plates as well. At some point in our lives, many of us become complacent when it comes to food, and we tend to eat the things we prefer almost to the point of stultification. But Auntie Mame is right: “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” I’m not urging you to sample fleshpots that you might find totally repugnant or that compromise your ethical convictions, but I encourage you to try dishes you might forego for superficial reasons.
In particular, childhood prejudices should come under review. Unless you were the subject of abuse of the most dastardly kind, the dishes you disliked as a child were most likely cooked improperly and fed to you by well-intentioned people who loved you and wanted you to do well in the world but simply did not know how certain things should be prepared. Perhaps it is their fault that you now refuse spinach in any form or fashion, but the lingering shadow of their benign ineptitude should not deny you of present or future pleasure. My culinary bugbear was eggplant, invariably fried. I hated it. But once I went to a Lebanese event at Ole Miss where a spry little lady served up the most wonderful dip for flat bread. It was cold, almost creamy, and absolutely delicious. I asked her what it was, and she turned to her husband, whose English was better, and he said “eggplant.” Had I known what it was in the first place, I probably wouldn’t have tried it at all, but I was pleasantly surprised that my old bête noire could take on such an appealing form. The dish is known by many names, but I know it as baba ghanoush.
3 medium eggplants
3 cloves of roast garlic, mashed
1/2 cup of tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
Stem, pierce and roast eggplants in a hot oven until soft. Scoop out the flesh, taking care to get the browned meat, mix with the other ingredients and blend in a food processor until smooth. Adjust salt to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with wedges of your favorite flat bread.