Smoky Eggplant Soup

We are having a late summer heat wave of sorts and I’m cooking light and easy meals.  The bounty of summer produce is almost overwhelming now; I’m happy to eat just fresh vegetables for the next few weeks.  This soup is an example of simple cooking with the best ingredients.  Eggplant develops a rich and smoky flavor when charred on the grill.  Put it into a soup pot with some aromatics and a good basic stock, and ten minutes later you have a delicious eggplant soup.  The garnish gives the soup a little Middle Eastern flair; lemon oil, zatar, and chopped parsley.  Zatar is a spice mixture consisting of sumac, thyme, white sesame seeds, and salt.  I purchase mine from Penzeys, a favorite local supplier.  So set out a little warm pita bread, a tomato salad perhaps, and smoky eggplant soup for a terrific late-summer lunch or dinner.

Smoky Eggplant Soup
(makes about 6 cups)
2 pounds small firm eggplants
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups sliced white or yellow onion
salt and pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of cayenne
6 cups chicken broth or mild vegetable broth (homemade or organic, low sodium store-bought)
3 to 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon zatar
2 teaspoons chopped, fresh parsley
Poke 2 or 3 holes in each eggplant with a paring knife, then place on a hot grill (or under the broiler, if you’re not in the midst of a heatwave).  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, allowing the skin to blacken and char.  Turn and cook on the other side until the eggplants have softened completely, about another 4 minutes.  Set aside to cool, then remove and discard the skin and roughly chop the eggplant flesh.  Meanwhile, put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook until softened and beginning to color, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Add garlic, cayenne, and reserved eggplant and cook 1 minute more, then add broth and bring to a brisk simmer.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Check seasoning of broth and adjust salt.  Puree the soup in batches in a blender.  Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and discard solid debris and seeds.  Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice to the pureed soup and taste again, adding more as necessary.  The soup should be well seasoned and rather lemony.  Mix the lemon zest with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil for garnish.  Ladle soup into small bowls, topping each bowl with 1 teaspoon lemon oil, 1/2 teaspoon zatar, and a little chopped parsley.  May be served hot or cold.
(from City Kitchen by David Tanis, The New York Times)


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