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A Ramadan Feast Fit For a Prince: Baba Ghanouj

by Cheryl Forberg, RD on August 8, 2011

I know from experience just how good the food surrounding the Muslim holiday of Ramadan can be. You could say that where a fast is central, so is the food.

Ramadan, which lasts for 30 days each year, is a holy time for Muslims. The exact timing of the holiday is determined by the lunar cycle, and this year it began last week and ends August 29.

The month-long period of prayer and reflection is observed by fasting each day from sunrise to sunset. The fast is broken each night with a meal of delicious foods including a soup called Harira. This hearty vegetarian stew is loaded with starchy legumes such as lentils and garbanzos that thicken the soup. It’s richly flavored with spices — cumin, turmeric, cardamom and cinnamon.

I learned a lot about the cuisine of Ramadan firsthand when I lived in Los Angeles. For a number of years, I was a private chef to a Saudi prince. Each year at this time, the family’s chefs would prepare all of the authentic dishes of the holiday. Though language was often a barrier, I learned many of their prized recipes by taking careful notes in the kitchen as I watched them measure and taste as each scrumptious plate passed by.

When preparing these meals I couldn’t help dialing down the cooking oil a bit to reduce the calories in some of the recipes, but I made sure not to compromise their perfect balance of seasonings and spices.

Here is a recipe the prince’s cooks shared with me for baba ghanouj, a roast eggplant puree that is fabulous with toasted whole-wheat pita chips. This takes a little time to make, but it’s worth the wait.

Warning: it’s really hard to have a small serving — you may have to plan for an extra workout the day after you make this.

I am going to LA to work on season 12 of the Biggest Loser soon, and I’ll be sure to pay a visit to the prince, too. Hopefully there will be plenty of baba ghanouj on hand!

Please let me know if you try this recipe; I’d love to know what you think.

Baba Ghanouj 

The flavor is regal and the texture of this creamy appetizer is truly imperial. It’s no wonder since my inspiration for the recipe came from Chef Sahd, who cooks for the Saudi royal family. His addictive Middle Eastern eggplant dip is traditionally served with warm pita bread and an assortment of salads. It’s a great make-ahead hors d’oeuvre. It keeps refrigerated for several days.

Makes 4 cups; 32 2-tablespoon servings

2 large eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 cup plain fat-free Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, without stems
2 teaspoons salt (optional)

Sesame Factoid: Sesame seeds are a good fat and an excellent source of protein and calcium.

Wash and dry the eggplant. Cut off stem end. Pierce skin with a fork to prevent eggplant from bursting during roasting. For stovetop roasting or grilling: Place eggplant directly on grill rack or over gas burner at medium heat. Grill for about 18 minutes, turning frequently to cook evenly. Remove from heat when eggplant has become very soft. Set roasted eggplant aside to cool.

For oven roasting: Position rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat a 15 x 10-inch baking sheet with olive oil spray. Place eggplant on prepared baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, turning eggplant three or four times to roast evenly. Remove from oven when eggplant becomes soft.

When cool enough to handle, peel and discard eggplant skin. Remove most of the seeds and cut eggplant into chunks.

Combine remaining ingredients except parsley and eggplant in a blender jar or the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth. If mixture is too thick, add hot water by tablespoons to achieve the right consistency. Add eggplant chunks and blend by hand just until smooth.

Adjust seasoning with salt if necessary. Garnish with finely chopped parsley.

Nutrient Analysis: per 2 tablespoons, Calories: 32, Protein: 2 grams, Carbohydrates: 3 grams, Total fat: 3 grams, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Fiber: 1 gram


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