I’ve been doing a spectacular amount of hemming and hawing over this post. There’s the, “Is it too late to talk about eggplants and tomatoes?” question, as it is well into October and eggplants are so… late summery. But there are still a ton of eggplants and tomatoes at the markets, likely due to this warm fall we’ve been having. Although they may not be the perky specimen that first appeared in August, they are absolutely perfect for soup. Then there’s the “Ugh, SOUP” issue wherein I have to admit that I find soup kind of dull. Sure, I’ve got a slew of soup recipes in the archives that I find interesting, but still, the vast majority of soups out there to be either too salty, too watery, cream bombs (I’d rather save my heavy cream to top pie, thank you very much) or to taste like limp, boiled vegetables. And finally, there’s the fact that this soup is excellent the way it is but with endless potential for tweaking, and who wants a slightly unfinished recipe? But then, thank goodness, I said this to myself: “Zzzzz!” and also “pbbbblt!” Because if I put myself to sleep with all of this hand-wringing, I can only imagine how few of you will make it past paragraph one.
So here’s how this soup began: My mother gushed a couple weeks ago about an eggplant soup from, of all places, a casino in Atlantic City. Eggplant soup! At a casino! Worth talking about! Who knew? And so I dug through my recipe bookmarks and found one from an old Bon Appetit that sounded just right, with a few steps that would save it from many of the aforementioned soup evils. By roasting the eggplant, tomatoes, garlic and onion first, you’d deepen their flavors before throwing them in a stock bath. And although the original recipe called for a whole cup of cream, the head notes suggest you can skip it entirely, although I had no desire to do a silly thing like that. In my experience, it only takes a modicum of cream to make a soup taste especially lush, and that cream can go a long way towards anchoring the flavors that otherwise get a little lost in the … slosh of it all. Too much cream, and the flavors are held at a distance while you drown in richness, and I’d much rather save that for Things That Involve Cheese Or Chocolate.
The results were pleasing, and my parents enjoyed it, but it wasn’t exactly right. (Obviously next time I’ll have to insist my mother carry specimen cups in her purse when visiting a casino. Which, every time I read this back to myself, sounds like an even more ominous idea.) The original was chunkier, which can easily be adjusted by simply not fully pureeing the soup. But then — quite after the fact but I’ll give her a pass on it — she mentioned the spices. Which she couldn’t put a finger on but it doesn’t matter because I wasn’t listening anymore. (Nothing new! And yes, I’m already getting my adorable payback.) “Cumin!” I shouted over my mother’s talking. “Coriander!” I continued in this one-sided conversation. “A squeeze of lemon juice!” I rambled. On and on this went but I use AT&T and so of course by then my call had been dropped without me realizing it. Should I be concerned that my mom didn’t call me back?
Roasted Eggplant Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit
3 medium tomatoes, halved
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise (I used 3 smaller ones)
1 small onion, halved (eh, mine was medium)
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
4 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth
1/4 cup heavy cream (you can add more to taste, or skip this entirely)
3/4 cup (about 3 1/2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange tomatoes, eggplant, onion and garlic on a large baking sheet, or two smaller ones if you, like me, have a tiny oven. Brush or drizzle vegetables with oil then roast them for 20 minutes, pausing only to remove the garlic cloves (the original recipe had you keep them in the whole time, and mine, sadly, burned) and returning the pans to the oven for another 25 minutes, until the remaining vegetables are tender and brown in spots. Remove from oven and scoop eggplant from skin into a heavy, large saucepan or soup pot. Add the rest of the vegetables, the thyme and the chicken or vegetable stock and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until onion is very tender, about 45 minutes (mine took longer). Cool slightly.
Working in batches, puree soup in blender until it is as smooth as you’d like it to be. (Or, if you have an immersion blender, you can do this in the pot.) Back in the pot, add the cream and bring the soup back to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in four bowls, sprinkled with goat cheese.
A spicier riff: As I mentioned above, if you like to play with spices, this soup has a lot of potential. The next time I make it, I might give it a spin with 1 to 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander and a pinch of red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper added in with the broth. I might finish the soup with a squeeze of lemon juice and I might use feta, which has a stronger flavor than the soft chevre that I used. If you add any spices or made any changes, I’d love to hear what you came up with in the comments.