The best eggplant of my life

by Sarah on May 5, 2012

grilled eggplants

Sometimes all it takes is a perfectly grilled eggplant to make things right.

After walking for two weeks, I was ready to go home. Instead we stumbled into our campsite- littered with trash, too close to the highway and a view of abandoned buildings. A dump. While I’m all for roughing it, this did not seem to be an appropriate ending to a stunningly beautiful hike. I’d love to have said “Pile in kids. We are heading to the city” except we tried that option the day before with no luck.

small crater, Israel, Negev

Small Crater, Israel in early morning

The small crater, Israel, negev

The Small Crater, Israel

Dimona is a sleepy town between destinations, usually ignored by all but the people who live there. During Passover it became a veritable ghost town. Nothing was opened except two kiosks named Munchies (they seem to be a monopoly) and a couple greasy places in the strip mall. Even the Dimona outdoor market was eerily quiet with no other customers but us.

Dimona outdoor market

Dimona outdoor market, a quiet place during the Passover holidays

After a futile search for a restaurant, we stocked up on provisions and headed back to the Negev.  So be it, we would still have a feast.

eggplant with tehina and honey

Grilled Eggplants in the middle of nowhere

Eggplants have an almost inorganic beauty. Grilled over fire, its smooth onyx luster collapses in on itself, sacrificing appearance for flavor. The flesh is soft beneath charred skin, with the husky scent of smoke. Honey mellows its pungency, the tehina adds richness.  It is a very rustic baba ganoush, a classic Levantine dip, stripped of all but the most basic ingredients.

1 or two eggplants

A few tablespoons of honey or date syrup

A few tablespoons of tehina paste (sesame seed paste)

Salt and pepper

Build a campfire. This first part is actually quite difficult if you’re in the middle of the desert as even a twig is hard to come by (we got lucky and found a log by the side of the road). Border the fire with rocks, arranging them so the grill can be balanced on them.  Be careful when lifting rocks as there can be scorpions beneath them. Poke the eggplants a couple of times and place on the grill. The eggplants will shrivel up like the wicked witched of the west. At this point transfer to a plate, not the trash.

camping in the desert, israel, negev

Left, the log didn't quite fit into our car, right, our campground in the middle of nowhere

Don’t bother peeling the eggplants (remember we are in the middle of the desert and there is no water to wash those black hands). Instead slit the surface down the middle without cutting through to the other side. Gently pull the two sides apart so the soft insides of the eggplant are exposed. Cool for five minutes and drain the extra liquid that might have accumulated on the plate. With a sharp knife, wiped clean with your shirt, chop the eggplant flesh but not the charred skin. Drizzle with honey and tehina paste. If the tehina paste is too thick mix with a bit of water to obtain a smooth sauce (the water/tehina mixture will clump up at the beginning, continue mixing until smooth).

Bonus:

How to clean dishes in the desert- the shocking truth

Everything but drinking is considered a frivolous waste of water while backpacking in the desert. This means that an alternative method of washing dishes is used. Take a handful of pebbly sand to clean the inside of the pot, rubbing the sand over the surface like a sponge. Remove the debris and add a tiny bit of water (about 20 ml). Rinse and wipe clean with a cloth. It may not sound hygienic but there really aren’t too many pathogenic bacteria in the soil and carrying water just for washing dishes is out of the question.  It gives you an appreciation for the simple luxury of clean running tap water when arriving back home.

Update of the Israel Trail:

My two older boys completed half the Israel Trail, 480 km, from Eilat to Lachish National Park in Central Israel.   They finished this in 21 days of walking and 2 days of rest. My youngest and I, starting from Nahal Barak, walked more than 320 km. We’ll be doing the rest of the Israel Trail, the much easier section,  in parts during weekends and holidays.

 

 

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa May 5, 2012 at 1:47 am

I bet they tasted great! I wish I could roast mine on an open fire. Great landscapes!

Cheers,

Rosa

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Yael the Finn May 5, 2012 at 2:57 am

Beautiful pictures Sarah! Those pictures from the crater are just stunning!
And grilled eggplant is one of the best things that I know ;D

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Yael May 5, 2012 at 7:33 am

What a gorgeous post! Amazing photos especially the eggplant close-up. You see, when there’s a good photographer even an old camera will do.
I’m very proud that my daughter was the only one to join you guys so far, I feel that somewhere I did something right.

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Katherine Martinelli May 5, 2012 at 10:07 am

I love reading about your experiences on the Israel trail! It is definitely something you and your family will remember always. And it really does give you such an appreciation for things like water. This eggplant looks delicious!

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Sally - My Custard Pie May 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

So enjoyed reading about this part of the hike. The desert washing up is brilliant. I can taste those smokey aubergines.

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Miriam Kresh May 5, 2012 at 11:44 am

All of the above, Sarah…

But – did you meet Simona in Dimona? :)

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Sarah May 5, 2012 at 11:52 am

Simona! I’ll need to go back ;-)

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usha May 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm

What is it about this glossy smooth-skinned vegetable that binds the world together ?
I know several people who would not give it a second glance ,but mention a grilled eggplant ( BHARTA in India) and their eyes light up.
The mountains are a thing of beauty,misty in the early morning I love the method of ‘washing up’ and reminds me of how wood ash is still used to scrub dishes in Indian villages.
Thank you Sarah for yet another stunning post.

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Eha May 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm

I love eggplant but have never cooked them with honey and tahini [our spelling Down Under!] Oh, they do look good :) ! But ‘washing’ dishes with sand: yes, very familiar!!

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Faye May 6, 2012 at 4:32 am

It’s not often you see recipes that say “Be careful when lifting rocks as there can be scorpions beneath them. ”

Bravo to you!

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Sarah May 6, 2012 at 5:08 am

I guess you can call it extreme cooking. We saw one large yellow scorpion on this trip, best to avoid those if possible.

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Turkey's For Life May 14, 2012 at 10:57 am

You all did so well on the walk. Congrats. And now onto the eggplant. Isn’t it just the loveliest food. We’ve never tried it like this but we’ve just hit barbecue season here. We’ll definitely try the eggplant with the tahin (Turkish word for it ;) ) and honey…but we might just wash up in water later.
Julia

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chinos May 22, 2012 at 11:27 am

hey. followed this posting from slate. never heard of the israel trail before. I’ve done the camino de santiago and have been looking at the shikoku….but israel trail? will definitely check this out. also – i’m from trinidad, wi and we have an eggplant recipe where we char and scrape off the skin. the cooked eggplant is then mixed with salt, chopped onions and diced scotch bonnet pepper ( to your taste ). we then heat some vegetable oil and peeled garlic ( do not burn garlic ) and pour in into the eggplant mixture. it’s a dish originating from indo-trinidadians and is callked baigan choka. if you like grilled eggplant then you may like this choka. i, personally, do not. ;) lol

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Sarah May 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Thanks for the Trini version of grilled eggplant and do come to do the Israeli trail but NOT in summer, way too hot.

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OysterCulture May 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I bet that eggplant dish beat anything served on a fancy plate. It sounds amazing. What a wonderful time and adventure that your family had.

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Mina Joshi August 22, 2012 at 10:44 am

This brings back memories. We make something similar called baigan bharta or oro. My parent’s were farmers in India and they used to roast the aubergine on a wood fire and then split it to add garlic chutney to it and sometimes yogurt to make the oro. And they used to use the ash from the burnt wood to clean the plates.

I love your amazing photographs.

Mina

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Sarah August 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Mina, Thank you for sharing your family’s aubergine recipe, it sounds wonderful. Next time I’ll need to try washing up with the ash.

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