Moutabbal and Lavosh Crisp bread
Moutabbal is the new hummus. Or I hope it is anyway, because hummus has become just a little bit boring. Sure, it is delicious but it is literally being thrown at you in every single restaurant or supermarket in London. Moutabbal is fun. It is different. It is exotic. Smoky aubergine and tahini are brought to life with a hint of garlic, lemon juice and the sour sweetness of pomegranate molasses. Hummus may be like vanilla ice cream, but moutabbal is Italian pistachio gelato.
Moutabbal is often called baba ganoush or vice versa. Which is rather confusing, especially as there are a million different versions and you can never be entirely sure what you get when you order. Aside from a base of aubergine, the remaining ingredients can range from tomatoes and mint through to spring onions and yoghurt. Some claim that baba ganoush traditionally omits tahini and is slightly chunkier, with the name originated from Egypt. I’ve only ever known it as moutabbal and with tahini in Lebanon.
For me, moutabbal only requires six ingredients: aubergines, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Of course you can start throwing fancy spices and ingredients at it such as cumin, mint and whatever else Ottolenghi may suggest. But for me six ingredients is all it needs. If they are good enough for my grandmother, the best cook I know, then they are certainly good enough for me.
The key to this dish is in the smokiness of the aubergine, which has to be cooked until it turns into a black, collapsed mess. For smoky perfection a barbecue is vital. Given London weather I usually roast it on an open flame on my gas hob instead, which produces the next best result. Worst case you can whack it under your grill however you won’t quite be able to get the same flavour. Vitally important is also that after you remove the flesh from the skins, you allow it to drain for at least 20 minutes. A substantial amount of brown water will drain off, water that would make your moutabbal both watery and unpleasantly bitter.
To serve with your moutabbal, the below recipe for lavosh crisp bread is an absolute winner. It is simple, but the addition of sesame seeds and za’atar brings an amazing flavour. It keeps for a few weeks in an airtight container too, meaning you can work your way through a variety of dips (such as my muhammara recipe here) The recipe is from my time at Leith’s where they used it as a canapé base. Stamp these out into small circles, top with moutabbal, scatter with pomegranate seeds and serve as a vegetarian canapé – impressive. The amount makes about 30 canapés. However, you could equally roll into strips, bake and then break it into pieces to dip into the moutabbal.
- cook the aubergine for longer than you think. It needs to be completely soft everywhere.
- be experimental with the lavosh crispread. Add spices, herbs and seeds however you fancy
- do use good quality ingredients for the moutabbal. There is nothing to hide in this dish!
- overcook your crisp bread. They burn very easily so keep a close eye!