The tahini-laced eggplant version of this dish is ubiquitous in Arab restaurants and homes across the United States. Growing up, we called it baba ghanouj, but I later learned that in the Arab world, baba ghanouj means a more citrusy eggplant salad. There, this dish of mashed vegetables with creamy tahini is more commonly called mutabal, which means a dish that’s made tastier or more flavorful with spices. When people refer to mutabal, the default vegetable is eggplant, but it actually can be made with just about any vegetable, as I share in the following two recipes.
With each variation, the preparation of the vegetable distinguishes the dish. In the case of eggplant, roasting makes it tastier, and I char mine for a smoky flavor. Most versions I taste today are too watered down and too garlicky—the smokiness of the cumin and charred eggplant in this version achieves the complexity I prefer.
- Cook the eggplants directly on the burner of a gas stove or in the oven. On a gas stove, sear the eggplants directly over a medium-high flame. Rotate every 5 minutes, until the globes are completely blackened, about 15 minutes total. Alternately, preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the eggplants on a sheet tray, poke them all over with the tines of a fork, rub them with the oil, and place the tray in the oven and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the eggplants collapse in on themselves and the skins are blackened.
- Place the cooked eggplants in a bowl and seal the bowl with plastic wrap to let the eggplants steam in their own juices.
- In a medium bowl, combine the tahini, lemon juice and zest, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper.
- When the eggplants have cooled enough to touch, split them lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape out the pulp, discarding the skins and stems. For a milder flavor, scrape the seeds off the strands of pulp.
- Use a fork to mash the pulp into the tahini-garlic mix, creating a chunky dip. Adjust the salt to taste.
- When ready to serve, scoop the eggplant mixture onto a serving plate. Use a spoon to create a well in the center and drizzle in the oil, then garnish with the molasses, pomegranate seeds, and parsley.
- Mutabal can be stored, ungarnished, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.