But she was right. First there was the addictive pizza topped with slices as crisp as schnitzel and scarfed down in a college dorm room, later a green Thai curry fragrant with basil and shared with the love of my life, three blocks from our first apartment. When a Moroccan friend diced it, fried it with cumin, and marinated it overnight with tomatoes and oil, I scooped it up with wheaty crackers and thought about it for days. There was even a silky, piquant restaurant version of the canned relish my mother had been eating all those years earlier. And last summer there was baba ghanoush at a party. Transported mouthward with pita bread, the Middle Eastern puree was so unctuous and smoky, so rich and irresistible, that I vowed to recreate it.
At home, Ben, my 6-year-old, stood around squeezing lemons into a measuring cup for me, shuddering as I left the roasted eggplant to drain in the sink, pockets of slidy, dark seeds emerging from the tangle of pulp and charred skin. I was glad he'd never seen any of the Alien movies. But his wariness dissipated as the food processor whirred it from incoherent to creamy and pale green with the herbs we'd tossed in. We rippled it into a pretty dish, and he looked from the bowl to me and back before dipping the very corner of a pita chip in, before announcing, "Yikes! It makes my lips itch," before taking another pita chip and not dipping this time so much as shoveling. "I don't know," he kept saying, even as the eggplant disappeared from view. "I'm not sure."
Eggplant, it seems, will not be an assertion of my otherness from my family, an edible version of daydreaming during a holiday meal. I'll get no privacy in a can. But I thought of my mom again recently when Ben staggered from sleep into the bathroom where I was lying in the dark, in the tub, a single candle aflame on its rim. His own cheerful, dark-haired mother. He was shocked. "But I'm not even awake !" he insisted. "Why are you doing this without me?" And, like my mother before me, I could only smile.
Get the recipe for Minted Baba Ghanoush