“Hey Mom, what smells so good?”, chirped Lilah as she jumped down the stairs. The smells of roasting eggplant, sauteed onion, garlic, and smoked paprika had made their way up to her room and she was jonesing for a taste. “Oooh, are those olives? Can I have one?”, the question was a formality, asked as she plucked a large, green olive out of the jar.

“I’m making eggplant dip and, yes, you can have an olive.”, I said. “Wanna help?”

Her answer was yes, of course, so I put her to work measuring pantry items and peeling the cooled eggplants. Then, once all of the ingredients were assembled, I let her push the button on the food processor and watch her hard work come together. After everything was mixed into the eggplant, her reward was the first taste on a freshly toasted pita chip. The verdict? “It tastes as good as it smells.”

I love this dip, too, and not just because it tastes great, but also because it’s the product of a very forgiving and endlessly adjustable recipe. You can truly make it suit your own taste.

Some ideas: Puree the eggplant with the tomato paste and simply fold in the other ingredients for a chunkier dip. Puree everything together for a smooth dip. Trade the paprika with a some sriracha or chile flakes for a spicier dip. Swap the green olives with pitted kalamata olives if you like more brininess. Replace the red wine vinegar with balsamic for more sweetness and depth. Add an anchovy, pine nuts, or some oregano if the mood strikes. You could even replace the eggplant with pureed white beans for a jacked-up Mediterranean hummus.

The possibilities are endless, but here’s the version I prefer:

Roasted Eggplant Dip

(adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 2 medium or 3 small eggplants
  • Good olive oil
  • 4 ounces fresh or jarred roasted red peppers (about 2 roasted peppers), diced
  • 1/2 cup large green olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Place the whole eggplants on the pan, pierce with them a fork in several places, and rub with olive oil. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft when pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and lightly browned – about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika, cook for 1 minute, then set the mixture aside.

Halve the eggplant, peel, and discard the skin. Place the eggplant, onion mixture, peppers, and olives in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until well-combined, but not completely pureed. Pour into a mixing bowl.

Add the parsley, lemon juice, capers, tomato paste, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop. Taste for seasonings and serve at room temperature with toasted pita triangles and veggies.

This would also be a wonderful accompaniment to grilled chicken, shrimp, fish, or pasta.

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