Based on my years of experience cooking for people with various tastes in food, eggplant lovers are a minority in the good ‘ole USA. Recently, I was out with a bunch of girlfriends for dinner at an Italian restaurant and was pleasantly surprised to discover that three out of the seven of us were big fans of this versatile vegetable, “L’Enfant Terrible” of the Nightshade family. As one friend devoured her eggplant parm, we talked about how our husbands won’t touch it and either will our children, which means we’re not getting any eggplant action at home.
Lucky for me, I can project my cravings onto willing clients. One long-time client in particular really perks up when I mention doing something with eggplant. I suggested a roasted eggplant and tomato soup, thinking I would do the usual Italian version, with fresh basil and some parmesan. At the last-minute, though, I decided to go with something more unexpected, more exotic. This is the smokey, spicy, sultry soup I concocted using the fragrant spices indigenous to North African (Tunisian) cooking. To add some creaminess and to balance the heat, I added lite coconut milk (not Tunisian, but hey–I’m the chef and I can do what I want!) towards the end of the long slow simmer. If you can find harissa (or if you want to make your own) use that in place of the spices.
Recipe for Tunisian Spiced Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup:
1 eggplant, medium-sized (plump, beautiful and shiny–no bruises or brown spots)
2 c. diced onion (1/4″ dice)
3 cl. garlic, minced
1 T. coconut oil (or olive oil)
2 t. paprika
1 1/2 t. smoked paprika
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1/8-1/4 t. cayenne pepper (start with less and add more later if needed)
3 c. vegetable broth
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (use fire-roasted if desired, but not necessary)
1 15 oz. can lite coconut milk
For the eggplant: Remove stem end and bottom. Slice vertically into 3/4″ slabs. Sprinkle both sides with kosher salt and lay them out onto a sheet pan lined with paper towels. Cover with paper towels and sit another sheet pan on top. Place something heavy on top of that (like a pot) to weight it down a bit. Set aside and allow the bitter juices to “sweat out” for 40 min. or so while you prepare the soup base.
To roast the eggplant, turn oven to broil setting and place rack to highest level. Line sheet pan with foil and spray with coconut or olive oil. Distribute eggplant slices onto sheet pan and spray or brush each side with oil. Broil each side til brown and tender (about 3-4 min per side depending on strength of your broiler. Watch vigilantly!).
For the soup: In a large pan (dutch oven works well), over med. high heat, add coconut oil. When hot, but not smoking, add the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt and slowly sauté until almost translucent (about 3 min). Add all of the dry spices and continue to cook, stirring for about 30 sec. Add tomatoes and vegetable broth. Allow to come to a slow simmer and lower heat to maintain. Simmer for about 40 min. Add coconut milk and diced, roasted eggplant. Add 1 t. kosher salt or more to taste. If soup is too thick, add more vegetable broth. Find a comfy spot and enjoy!