Since his books, I've learned how to char eggplant in the oven and add its melty insides to a broiled vegetable soup. I've learned how to take those melty insides, pair them with Greek yogurt, and top a heap of lentils with them. I've made a wonderful dish of soba noodles with fried eggplant and fresh mango. I have eaten eggplant slices topped with buttermilk sauce and pomegranate seeds that a friend had made. I've roasted halved eggplants and adorned them with lemon pulp, chiles, fried onions, and garlic with friends in preparation for a party. And most recently another friend and I made a soup by charring eggplants over the gas burners on my stove, scooping out their middles, and adding them to a tomato-soup-like base. We then garnished that soup with caramel-y, crispy fried eggplant. I never realized eggplants were so versatile before I owned Plenty and Jerusalem.
Burnt Eggplant Soup With Israeli Couscous
(adapted from Jerusalem)
5 small eggplants (2 1/2 pounds)
1 onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 2/3 cup water
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup Israeli couscous
2 tablespoons shredded basil
Place 3 eggplants directly on 3 separate gas burners over medium heat and roast for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until skin is burnt and flaky and insides are soft.
Cut remaining eggplants into 2/3-inch pieces. Heat 2/3 cup of sunflower oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and fry for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until browned all over. Transfer eggplant to colander to drain and season with salt.
Note: Our eggplant kept sticking to the pan and leaving its brown crust behind, so we eventually transferred it to the colander anyways. Just before serving the soup, we refried the eggplant in a nonstick skillet until it was browned and caramelized.
Add sunflower oil to pan as necessary to equal 1 tablespoon, then add onion and cumin. Sauté for 7 minutes, stirring often.
Add tomato paste and continue to cook for 1 minute longer. Then stir in tomatoes, chicken stock, water, garlic, sugar, lemon juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and a pinch of pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare Israeli couscous according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water.
Scoop out flesh from burnt eggplants and stir into soup. Puree soup with an immersion blender. Stir in the Israeli couscous, and simmer for 2 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve soup with fried eggplant and basil and drizzle each portion with olive oil.
Even if you don't like eggplant, you may enjoy this soup sans garnish. When Jeff walked in and saw us with eggplants, he asked if they were going in the soup, and we said we were garnishing the soup with them (which wasn't a lie; it just wasn't the whole truth). We left the garnish off his soup, and we didn't tell him he'd actually eaten eggplant until he'd emptied his soup bowl. It simply adds a wonderful smokiness and a luxurious, silky texture.
If you do like (even love, as I do) eggplants, then don't forego that garnish. It adds the most wonderful browned, caramel-y notes to the soup.
Eggplant -- love it or hate it?