There’s a common misconception that mouttabal (also spelled moutabbal or muttabal, depending on the country) is the same thing as baba ghanoush. In many North American restaurants, the two are used interchangeably on menus when in practice they are actually different dishes deriving from one main ingredient: roasted eggplant. As a result, both have a deep smoky taste that languishes on your tongue after each bite. While mouttabal and baba ghanoush are each found within the Levant region, their similarities end with the roasted eggplant and seasonings like lemon juice and garlic. It was mouttabal – and not baba ghanoush – that remained a staple throughout my travels in Jordan.
Mouttabal vs. Baba Ghanoush
So what is the difference? Mouttabal (or as it’s called in Lebanon mutabal batinjan) is a dip made from roasted eggplant and sesame paste (called tahini), as well as yoghurt. Olive oil, lemon juice and salt are added for seasoning, resulting in a creamy, flavourful and very filling dip. Baba ghanoush has more ingredients but a lighter feel, combining fresh chopped parsley, tomato, chives and often a mix of green and red pepper. These are folded into the eggplant and it too is seasoned with oil, lemon juice and garlic. In some countries, the peppers and chives are replaced with pomegranate molasses and walnuts; either way it’s delicious.
Moutabal figured prominently in my meals throughout Jordan, be it as an appetizer prior to roasted lamb or chicken, or as a small Lego block in a meal of mezze, rounding out the flavours with its soft smoky taste. It was fun to compare all the different recipes and textures, some with chunks of eggplant and others puréed to a smooth, consistent paste.
I used to hate eggplant as a kid, offput by its stringy consistency and strange thick taste. But as I got older, it grew on me exponentially and nowadays it’s one of my favourite ingredients in food. I’ve had the pleasure of trying eggplant dishes around the world, from fiery Sichuan masterpieces laced with numbing peppercorns and topped with chilis, to equally fiery Laotian dips that left the restaurant staff laughing at the tears pouring down my face. The eggplant dishes in the Middle East are rarely spicy, but what they lack in chili they make up for in taste. Every bite of moutabal was one I savoured, no matter how many times I ate it.
Recipe for Jordanian Moutabal
(Courtesy of Beit Sitti Cooking School, where I got to make my own)
Makes 4-5 portions
1 medium sized eggplant
½ cup tahini paste
1 ½ cups of squeezed lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, mashed
2 tablespoons of salted yoghurt
Salt to taste
- Roast the eggplant on an oven top for about ½ hour, turning frequently. If you do not have a gas stove or BBQ, poke some holes in the eggplant and let it roast in the oven.
- Allow eggplant to rest for 10-15 minutes, then run it under cold water from a sink and slowly peel using your hands.
- Remove the stem and place the flesh into a plastic container. Run a knife through the flesh to separate it, add the juice of 1 ½ lemon, 2-mashed garlic cloves, salt, ½ cup of tahini and 2 tablespoons yoghurt.
- Mash the mixture using a spoon or a mortar and pestle and mix well.
- Spread on a plate and garnish a light drizzle of olive oil.