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)