Flame-roasted eggplant with chipotle-lime tahini

One of the things Israel lacks is Mexican and Tex-Mex food. We have plenty of ethnic food here, as I’ve noted before, but it tends to be from different ethnicities, those with more of a presence here. And we don’t have many Mexicans.

That said, some of the key ingredients are starting to make their way into stores and markets, so the do-it-yourselfers can satisfy their Mexican cravings with a little bit of effort. Once a rarity, limes are starting to make an annual appearance in the country’s larger markets, even if not everyone knows what they are. (Funny story: I was eating hummus at one of my favorite hummus restaurants in the Yemenite quarter last summer, and was surprised to see limes served alongside the hummus in place of lemons. Was this a traditional preparation I hadn’t been aware of? A modern twist? I said something to the chef after I finished eating, who responded, “Yeah, the lemons are really horrible this year, I don’t know what’s with them.” It took me a minute to realize he was actually referring to those very limes — and when the staff caught on, they started to laugh. But I digress.)

Anyway, it’s still lime season, so stock up.

Next up is chipotle, which as I’ve mentioned, is somewhat of a trend. Katherine and I were pleased to note that East West stocks cans of chipotle en adobo — that warm, fiery red sauce of smoked chilis with such a distinct flavor. Cilantro is ever-present at every greengrocer’s stall. And if you want to make your own corn tortillas, you can even find masa de harina at a hidden little south American store in the Carmel Market called Achim Kahlani, as Ben discovered.

Unusual ingredients are kind of like toys if you ask me. Since my reference base is Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, a smoky, fire-roasted eggplant seemed like the perfect foil for the smoky, roasted chipotle en adobo now stored safely in my freezer. This traditional dish underwent a mild conversion in order to come out Tex-Mex style, with lime standing in for the usual lemon juice, cilantro replacing the parsley, and of course, chipotle kicking the whole thing up a notch.

The quantities below make more tahini than you likely will need for one eggplant, but for me that’s OK — I like using this as a sauce in sandwiches.

Final notes: You can make your own chipotle en adobo if buying it ready-made isn’t an option (availability, kashrut standards, etc.). Here’s one recipe for chipotle en adobo, though I haven’t personally tried it.

Also: I have another recipe for chipotle tahini, one that uses powdered chipotle instead of chipotle en adobo. It probably would work here, too.

For one (or two) eggplants:

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup raw tahini (it should contain no ingredients other than sesame)
  • juice of one lime (about 2 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • one crushed garlic clove (about 3/4 teaspoon)
  • half a chipotle, chopped, and some of its sauce — 1 1/2 teaspoon or to taste — this determines how spicy the finished tahini is. (My husband found this to be too spicy.)
  • 1 tablespoon water

To assemble:

  • 1 eggplant (or two — depends how much you want to make)
  • chopped cilantro for topping

Mix all the sauce ingredients together. You can use more or less than the recommended quantity of chipotle, depending how much spice you like.

To prepare the eggplant: Put a whole eggplant on an open flame, either a gas burner in your kitchen or a barbecue grill. Flip occasionally. The eggplant will become charred on the outside. The eggplant is done when it is soft to the touch all over (with a utensil, not your finger). (You can find pictures of an eggplant roasting on a flame in this post.)

Slice the eggplant open at the base and put it into a metal strainer so the liquids can drain out. Once it is cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skin. I often do so under the faucet, since this helps remove flakes, but some people say this removes some of the smoky flavor. Either way, if you use running water, you’ll need to let the eggplant drain again.

Slice the eggplant open fully, arrange on a plate, drizzle with tahini and top with chopped cilantro.

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