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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.