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Food

Has world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten gone vegan?

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Jean-Georges Vongerichten, center, shops at the Santa Monica farmers market with members of his team, Daniel Del Vecchio, left, and Steve Benjamin.
(Vanessa Tierney)

Jean-Georges Vongerichten runs nearly 40 restaurants in a dozen countries and holds a Michelin star tally few can beat. But that’s not what makes him one of the world’s best chefs. You can read about his career in his memoir “JGV: A Life in 12 Recipes” or you can cook this vegan eggplant dip and tomato chutney and understand. (Or do both.)

Years ago I co-authored two cookbooks with him, and during that process I was struck most by his earnest enthusiasm for new flavors, dishes and ideas. If he tasted something he liked — soba from an unmarked shop, a taco from a street cart, honey from a beekeeper — he’d hop a little on the balls of his feet and, eyes sparkling, offer a bite, “Taste this. You have to try this. It’s so good. C’est bon, c’est bon.”

It was a simple reminder that you have to love good food to make good food. While shopping at the Santa Monica farmers market, Vongerichten nearly shouted, “Amazing! This is all so amazing! It’s like three seasons in one here, to see the squash next to the strawberries next to the citrus.”

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Jean-Georges Vongerichten runs into L.A. pastry chef Sherry Yard while shopping for vegetables.
(Vanessa Tierney)

He channeled his excitement into a grilled eggplant dip inspired by baba ghanouj, spiked with a tomato chutney.
After charring the eggplant, Vongerichten slit it open slowly like a surgeon and steam shot out along the cut. He warned against doing the same at home: “Eggplant flesh is easier to scoop when it’s warm, but it doesn’t have to be hot. I like to do it fast because the eggplant tastes smoky and fresh when it comes right off the grill and into the bowl with the dressing.” As for his seasoning choices, he said, “Baba ghanouj is very rich, so I add raw ginger, which really has freshness and makes the dip explode.”

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While the eggplant dip is delicious on its own, Vongerichten designed an Indian-inspired tomato chutney to go with it. “I just boil it like a marmalade, then make it smooth like a jam,” he said. Notice that he adds coconut and spices after cooking to keep their delicate flavors intact — not more effort, but a lot more flavor.

Those little tricks add up. Even though dips are, by nature, easy to make, these wow with their complexity. And it can all come together in 30 minutes thanks to a chef who’s been changing the way we eat for more than 30 years.

The tomato chutney can be swirled into the eggplant dip, along with coconut yogurt.
The tomato chutney can be swirled into the eggplant dip, along with coconut yogurt.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Smoky Eggplant Dip With Ginger and Tomato Chutney

30 minutes. Makes 3 cups.

White and Japanese eggplants taste sweeter than large Italian eggplants and cook more quickly. You can use whichever variety you prefer and pull them from the grill whenever they’re done.

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8 large garlic cloves, peeled
7 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
1 ½ pounds eggplant (about 1 large Italian and 4 slender Japanese)
⅓ cup tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled
¼ cup unsweetened coconut yogurt
½ cup tomato chutney (recipe follows)
Flaky sea salt and fresh mint leaves, to garnish

1 Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct high-heat grilling, or prepare a wood fire.

Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten likes to grill in wood-burning ovens at his restaurants and at home. Here are his wood-fire cooking tips for grilling eggplant.

2 Toss the garlic with 1 teaspoon oil and put on a small steel baking pan or on a double layer of heavy-duty foil. If using foil, fold up the sides to create a little tray. Place the garlic tray and whole eggplants on the hot grill grate or nestle them in the burning wood (see sidebar). Cook the garlic, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Cook the eggplant, turning occasionally, until blackened all over and starting to collapse, about 7 minutes for small or slender eggplants and 15 minutes for a large one. Remove the garlic tray from the fire and transfer the eggplant to a cutting board and let cool slightly.

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3 Meanwhile, whisk the tahini, lemon juice, salt, paprika and remaining 7 tablespoons olive oil in a large bowl.

4 When cool enough to handle, split the eggplant in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop the flesh, without any charred skin, into the bowl. Mince the garlic and fold it into the eggplant. Season to taste with salt.

5 Transfer the dip to a large, shallow serving bowl. Use a Microplane zester to grate the ginger directly on top of the dip, covering the surface. Dollop the coconut yogurt and tomato chutney on top, then drizzle with more olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and garnish with mint.

Make ahead: The eggplant dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container without any toppings for up to 1 week.

Tomato Chutney

30 minutes. Makes about 2 cups.

You can buy chaat masala online (we like this brand) or at Indian grocery stores.

⅔ cup sunflower or other neutral-flavored vegetable oil
⅔ cup fresh lime juice
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
2 large Fresno chiles, seeded, chopped
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped

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2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
2 tablespoons unsweetened finely shredded dried coconut
2 teaspoons chaat masala

1 Combine the oil, lime juice, tomatoes, chiles, ginger, garlic, coconut sugar and salt in a large saucepan. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is jammy and reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Be careful as the mixture will splatter while it cooks.

2 Transfer the mixture to a blender and add the coconut and chaat masala. Blend until almost smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and season to taste with salt.

Make ahead: The chutney can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


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