Michelin-starred San Francisco chef Mourad Lahlou, author of the forthcoming cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan, adheres only slightly to tradition when making North African food, and that includes his baba ghanoush. Most recipes suggest baking the eggplant first, but Lahlou chars it instead—and, even more unorthodoxly, he chars the flesh, not the skin, which eliminates all bitterness and gives it a sweeter flavor. It's a technique that works for leeks, fennel and beets too. Though bitterness isn't usually an issue with those vegetables, they still get a huge flavor boost. To do it, make sure you turn the fan over your stove to high; in this case, there isn't much distinction between charring and burning, so be prepared for a strong smell. Set a large, dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Let it warm up for about five minutes; then char the eggplant slices (leave the skin on; it holds the slices together as they cook) for about 10 minutes per side, using a spatula to press down on them until the bottoms are blackened. Let them steam in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 15 minutes; then peel off the skin and puree.
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