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This serendipitous little soup was given life a few years back when I was cooking at a restaurant with a nasty little owner. He would insist on going to the markets each morning to buy box loads of fresh produce that we had scant hope of moving before it started to ferment. It was always a case of trying to save produce rather than celebrating it. Needless to say, I did not work there long but I did take this soup with me.

The owner came from the markets one morning with a box of eggplant (aubergine), tomatoes and capsicum (bell peppers) that he declared were a bargain. Well it's not a bargain if they are thrown in the trash, so I set about trying to salvage what I could.

This soup is densely packed with texture and flavour. The earthiness of the eggplant is playfully offset by the sweetness of the tomatoes and capsicum, and the roasting of the vegetables adds a whole new dimension. The soup can be made vegetarian by using water or vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and vegan by omitting the crème fraiche and using silken tofu blended with soy milk instead.

Ingredients

Method

Slice the top (calyx) from the eggplant. Chop the eggplant into rough cubes. Place in a roasting tray with the tomatoes, capsicum, onion, garlic and oil, toss to combine and cover with tin foil. Roast in a pre heated 220°C (440°F) oven for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir the vegetables and roast again, this time uncovered for a further 20 minutes. This will colour the vegetables and provide extra flavour.

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a large pot and add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavours get acquainted with one another.

Place the whole lot, in batches, into a food processor and gently pulse so that it is chopped well, but not fully pureed. You need a little texture left in the soup. Season with the salt and pepper then ladle into warm bowls. Garnish with the crème fraiche and basil and serve with lots of good bread.


Addendum. I feel it would be a shame to waste all the lovely roasted vegetable flavour that clings to the bottom of the roasting tray, which would be the case if you were to line the base of the tray with foil as per the method below. But hell, I hate washing up time too. A compromise must be struck. Try deglazing instead. Deglazing is simply lifting the sediment from a cooking vessel, usually a frying pan or roasting tray, with the aid of some sort of liquid. Try using a little (1/2 cup) dry white wine, stock or even water. Now you have a clean tray and all the extra flavour. Thanks panamaus for the tips!
Review

I am fascinated by the versatility of the aubergine, and when finding this recipe a few days ago, I knew immediately that I must try it. Having recently eliminated meat from my diet (with the exception of fish, shellfish, eggs and the occasional chicken stock - no, I do not claim to be a vegetarian), I am always looking for new ways to prepare a delicious meal. With the encouragement of sensei's writings, I thought it would be helpful to submit this writeup of my findings.

Preparation Notes

Prepping and roasting the veggies is fairly straightforward. To ease cleanup, I recommend lining the roasting tray with aluminum foil first, as the second phase of roasting (uncovered) will dry up a lot of the veggie juices into a dark residue around the exposed edges of the tray. Once roasting is done and the veggies are moved to the pot for boiling, simply lift the foil lining from the tray and voila! - it is clean.

The roasting veggies begin to smell wonderful after about 25 minutes in the oven, and will fill your kitchen with happiness. Although the ingredients do not specify fresh tomatoes (rather than canned), this is what I used. I substituted orange capsicum for red, as this is what I had on hand, but I don't think this would in any way influence the flavor of the soup. Also, I did not have a red onion, so I substituted a yellow one.

Once the roasting was completed, I added the veggies to a quart of chicken stock. Although I had earlier prepared Jinmyo's wonderful recipe for vegetable stock, and had plenty of it available, I still had some chicken stock that I needed to get rid of and I felt it would enhance the flavor of the veggies better, so I used it instead. Okay... bring to a boil, simmer for ten minutes, remove from heat to cool...

Which reminds me: It is important to mention that the next step involving the food processor should not be done while the soup is still piping hot! Doing so is potentially dangerous (and rather obviously so), but I felt it should be mentioned as there is nothing noted in the above method about letting it cool first. If you are planning on eating this dish immediately after preparation, I would factor in about 30 minutes of cooling time, plus another 10 for reheating.

Since I was not planning on eating it right away, I decided to let it cool for about an hour and then refrigerate it overnight. The next day, I removed it from the fridge and gave it the old chop-chop in the food processor. I prefer my soups a little on the chunky side, so I nearly-pureed only about two-thirds of the mixture, and returned it to the pot for reheating. After simmering on low for about 20 minutes and adding the salt and pepper, I determined that it was ready for the bowl. I skipped the garnish, as I was not feeling especially gourmet at the time.

Critique

In spite of the listed quantity of ingredients in the recipe, I was a little surprised at the yield - a little less than a quart and a half of soup. Attempting to double the recipe would require roasting twice as many veggies, and unless you have the roasting trays and/or oven capacity to accommodate this, it's bound to be rather time-consuming. As is, my total preparation time (discounting cooling time) was about two hours.

Still, this isn't the sort of soup that you would attempt to make into a full meal - it's better suited for an appetizer or a light lunch. Preparation time could be easily combined with the cooking of a stovetop entree of some sort. The flavor and texture is just as subtle and amazing as sneff describes, and every sip made my taste buds go Zing! Hours later, I was still thinking of it with great affection. Very excellent with hot crusty bread, and I found it went very well with a nice glass of Paisano.

If you love to cook, are particularly fond of soups (as I am), and enjoy the flavor of eggplant, this recipe is a winner! Thanks, sneff!

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