FoodMutabal: the Mediterranean dip taking over taste buds globally

Mutabal: the Mediterranean dip taking over taste buds globally

Eggplant paste
Eggplant paste
Images source: © Getty Images | ratib rajab

7:07 PM EDT, May 17, 2024

Alongside Mexican guacamole and Greek tzatziki, mutabal is considered one of the tastiest dips in the world. It pairs wonderfully with Arabic pita and local rye bread. It also makes a delicious addition to baked or grilled vegetables and many other dishes. So, how do you prepare mutabal?

Mutabal is the highest-rated dip on the popular Taste Atlas website, only outshone by guacamole and tzatziki. Guacamole, a staple since the Aztec era, is made from avocado, onions, chili, and tomatoes. Tzatziki, a Greek mixture, combines yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, and various herbs and spices like dill, mint, or parsley.

Mutabal is deeply rooted in Levantine cuisine, a region on the Mediterranean Sea's eastern coast. It’s hard to miss this aromatic dip made from roasted eggplants, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, yogurt, olive oil, and salt in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or Palestine. It’s served both at street stalls and in luxurious restaurants.

Today, the exact origin of this specialty recipe remains unknown, though many clues point to Lebanon. According to medieval Arabic manuscripts, eggplants were enjoyed in Lebanon as early as the 13th century. Many gourmets believe that the best-tasting mutabal can be found there. Often mistaken for baba ghanoush, another Middle Eastern specialty, mutabal typically includes tahini, whereas baba ghanoush does not.

In the Middle East, mutabal is usually enjoyed with pita bread as part of a meze, a set of appetizers. It also tastes great with fresh bread (such as rye bread), crackers, or vegetables, whether raw or baked. It can also be a tasty addition to grilled meats.

The power of eggplant

Mutabal owes its flavor to its main ingredient, eggplant, a vegetable with high nutritional value. Although it comprises 90% water, the rest contains valuable vitamins (vitamin C, B vitamins), minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium), and other organic compounds, including anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants that stimulate the immune system. They have anti-inflammatory effects and protect the circulatory system. Scientific studies have shown that these plant pigments counteract the development of cancers (including lung, colon, and stomach) and help treat them by alleviating the symptoms of chemotherapy. They also reduce the risk of heart disease and positively affect eyesight.

Eggplant is also a solid source of proteins, especially arginine – an amino acid that is a valuable building block of muscles. Arginine significantly increases our ability to exert effort and speeds up wound healing.

Eggplant spread
Eggplant spread© Adobe Stock

The pear-shaped vegetable contains a significant amount of chlorogenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and choleretic properties. Chlorogenic acid also reduces sugar absorption from the digestive tract and improves tissue sensitivity to insulin.

No less valuable for health is tahini paste, which is indispensable in mutabal. It can be bought in stores (ensure the ingredients list includes only sesame, possibly with good-quality oil, preferably sesame oil) or prepared at home. Toast sesame seeds in a dry pan, being careful not to burn them, as burnt seeds taste bitter. Once they turn golden, blend them thoroughly until a smooth consistency is achieved. To expedite this process, you can add a bit of sesame oil or olive oil.

Mutabal – how to make it

The key to a good mutabal is properly preparing the eggplant to achieve its distinctive, smoky flavor. The simplest way to achieve this is by grilling. Wash two medium-sized eggplants, wipe them, make vertical cuts in several places, and pierce them. Then place them on the grill and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning frequently.

If preparing the dish at home, you can use a stove to roast the eggplant on all sides over a burner, continuously turning it, or place it in an oven for about 30 minutes. Once cooled, peel the eggplants, cut them into fairly large cubes, place them in a colander, and let them drain.

Add garlic (3 cloves) to a blender, blend for a minute, then add the eggplant, tahini paste (4 tablespoons), lemon juice (3 tablespoons), thick natural yogurt (2 tablespoons), and a pinch of salt. Blend until a smooth consistency is achieved. Chill the paste in the refrigerator, and then serve with olive oil, chopped parsley, and pomegranate seeds.

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