A Little Story Time… My Moutabel Cooking #Fail (aka: That Was Gross)

Last updated on May 11, 2023

I like to fancy myself a citizen of the planet . . . I go places, I see, I do, I eat and I learn. And on the eating front, I take cooking classes in new places with the forever hope that someone eventually imparts in me the skills it takes to cook anything beyond a truly awesome American salad (now those I am good at!).

Rolling out the Momo
Tibetan Momos
Spinach Tibetan Momo

You see, my humble beginnings set me up for the woeful failure of a cooking experience I will soon share. My mother, for all that she did give us kids, it surely wasn’t talent in the kitchen. When I flashback two decades in my personal foodie history, images of me gagging down garbage soup float to the surface.

…and for the uninitiated who didn’t have the extreme pleasure of growing up in a large family, garbage soup is the term for adding the leftovers of every, single, thing, in the refrigerator to a big pot with a bland soup base before feeding it to your hungry masses (and then the cook (mom) is amazed by how quickly everyone’s hunger dissipates long before the bowls of soup are empty).

Never one to accept personal failure without a real effort first, I take these cooking classes all over the world (Tibetan momos in India, traditional foods in Laos) and they lull me into a false sense of comfort that I can actually cook.

You see, a cooking class is a magical place; each cook-in-training is often given a Martha Stewart-esque cooking space decked out with precisely the tools needed to make the dish. If you need a sifter, great, it’s there…steamer tray? Yep. An open flame? Copy that, they have a beauty of a device right there on your table.

Then the class starts and each tiny porcelain bowl holds your pre-measured ingredient as you follow along with the teacher and dump, mix, heat, flash fry and garnish. It’s good fun.

And you know why it’s fun? Because the food turns out beautiful! Like dishes in a magazine.

Luang Prabang Salad, Laos Food
My prettily prepared Luang Prabang salad with handmade dressing at my cooking class in Laos

Let’s revisit the moutabel story now. Moutabel is a very popular eggplant mezze dish in Jordan and it’s quite similar to baba ghanoush, a favorite dish on Middle Eastern menus world-wide. Moutabel ingredients include: roasted and mashed eggplant, tahini, lemon, and olive oil. Simple enough right?

On my Jordan travels, the Tourism Board sponsored a cooking class for me at the Beit Sitti cooking school in Amman because I mentioned I enjoy learning to cook. The class was so lovely; wide marble counters and a steady supply of lemon and mint drink as we prepared and cooked moutabel, makloubeh, and knafeh (all three dishes explained in my vegetarian guide to traditional Jordanian foods).

Moutabel Traditional Jordanian Food
Moutabel, a creamy roasted eggplant dip reminiscent of baba ganoush and served as a mezze.

I gobbled down the flavorful moutabel with fresh pita bread and noted to myself that this was a dish my parents would love…I resolved to cook it when I returned home to share a piece of my Jordan travels.

I tracked down tahini, purchased my eggplant, lemon, and garlic and got straight to work after returning home this past summer. The entire time my taste buds salivated at the prospect of tasting this dish after months separated from the creamy texture and smoky eggplant flavor.

Making Moutabel Jordan food
At the Beit Sitti cooking class, the last step of a delicious moutabel is a generous portion of olive oil!

After the garlic mincing, lemon squeezing, and eggplant mashing my masterpiece was ready. I even artfully sprinkled the olive oil to imitate the restaurants throughout Jordan because, you know, presentation is half the battle!

What I won on presentation though, I lost completely on the other end. I sampled and raised an eyebrow….why did it taste like that? Maybe not enough lemon?

With dutiful purpose I extracted the other half of my lemon from the fridge and generously squeezed more juice into the dish.

Hmm . . . still odd.

More tahini?

Gah! No! Crap, now there was too much tahini so I over-corrected with yet more lemon.

By the time my dad came into the kitchen ready for my much-touted masterpiece I was pouting…

Failure. Not an epic failure, both my parents humored me…my mom’s not a hypocrite so she stayed mum about anything off-tasting, and we all munched our way through the entire dish.

Cooking Moutabel
My own version of the Jordanian moutabel . . . maybe I should have sprung for the pretty garnishes?

I giggle at the thought of attempting this again…I will at some point because I love the dish and think I went wrong by not roasting the eggplant for long enough…who knows though!

It’s worth noting too that I loved my cooking class in Jordan; Beit Sitti was such a fun evening with just the right combination of cooking and relaxing banter as the class prepared the traditional foods. My shortcomings as a solo cook (maybe I over-salted it?!) have never once stopped me from enjoying learning from the professionals in each new country because I love seeing the process behind a country’s foods, even if I sorely lack the skills to replicate that process ;-)

Any great cooks out there? Do you take cooking classes as you travel or have any epic foodie failures to share?

Quick Tips: Three Fun Cooking Classes

21 thoughts on “A Little Story Time… My Moutabel Cooking #Fail (aka: That Was Gross)”

  1. I am inspired! I’ve never thought of taking a cooking class but after looking at all your dishes (especially the eggplant) I really want to sign up for one…

    • Are you traveling somewhere soon? I really highly recommend taking a cooking class where ever you visit, in many cases they take you to the local markets to pick out the foods, then tell you a lot about the ingredients and why they are used in the local cooking – you learn a lot and always leave ridiculously full! :)

  2. I am a grade A disaster when it comes to cooking! I took a cooking class in Vietnam, and it’s a really good thine were people there to help me make the dish, or it would have been inedible.

    • Agreed! They always turn out good at the cooking classes though…but I am with you on the disaster, I always end up with millions of pots/pans/utensils piled in the sink and a questionably edible product at the end :-/  But yum on the Vietnamese food… :)

  3. I have to admit we’ve attempted to recreate several of the dishes we learned in our SE Asia cooking classes with limited success: pad thai, tom yum gung, fish amok, larb gai. It was particularly challenging in France, where it was next to impossible to find some of the key ingredients. One forgets how lucky we sometimes are in the US—that melting pot means great foreign food markets. Now that we’re back in San Francisco, I’m excited to get cooking again. There’s a whole world of Asian grocery stores out here that I’ve never explored before!

    • You guys both seem super talented in the kitchen though because you took heaps of cooking classes…and I imagine you’ll have access to just about anything in San Francisco’s markets! I’ll cross my fingers for you guys that the dishes come out tasting like the flavors of Asia…or you could just swing back by for a visit? ;-)

    • They really is fun Andi! I love that they’re like little foodie parties and then you sit around and just eat all that food! And I always make sure to savor it while I’m there since I won’t be able to ever replicate it :)

  4. Ha! I just tried this a couple weeks ago. Same results. How did you roast it? The smoky taste is notably missing in mine as I only have an electric oven. They say let the skin char and leave some of that in the mix, but that sounds wrong too. My color is always off too. Maybe I wait too long with the eggplants and they start to get more bitter. I just did a bunch Italian style, melanzane sott’olio, sorta pickled and in olive oil. (Three blogs ago re: my fave dishes from overseas) Preamtip and I ate ourselves sick on them. And will again. :)

    By the way, how does one know when their tahini has gone bad? I got mine from Trader Joe’s (never again) and it was weird to begin with and now seems to lean toward a fermenting sort of taste.

    • Did you really?! See, I did have the smoky flavor because we have a gas stove, but I truly think I just didn’t let it cook for long enough because it started making a great big mess on the stove, so I took it off before it was done and figured “oh well, it will taste fine” :(  

      Love the sounds of the pickled dish, yum Kevin! I would have gorged too.

      As for the tahini, I assume (based on guessing) that it’s like peanut butter and lasts for quite a while…? 

  5. I had the exact opposite thing happen to me.  I took a cooking class in Chiang Mai at Siam Rice Cooking School (highly recommend them!) and when I returned home I had a huge dinner party for about 10 of my friends.  It took me ALL DAY to cook the meal….from scratch.  Finally, at the end of the meal (I made spring rolls, green papaya salad, chicken coconut soup and yellow chicken curry), one of my friends realized I made the entire meal from scratch and told me it was the best Thai food she had ever had!  Made it completely worth it.  Only now, when I cook Thai for someone, it means I really, really like them because it is a labor of love!

    • Your dinner party sounds wonderful! And you must have slaved away to make enough food to feed 10 people! I had this dream of doing just exactly that, making a hodge-podge of foods for friends and having them over…decided against that until I can get this cooking thing sorted though ;-)  Thanks for the cooking school rec, I’ll be in Chiang Mai later this fall so i might have to try it out!


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