Eggplant is a vegetable that I keep trying to like, but have a really hard time doing so. Until now, I've only eaten it one way that I enjoyed it - loved it, actually - and that was a dish I frequently ate in China, with eggplant, potatoes and spicy peppers in a rich sauce. Something about that dish was completely addictive. I tried to create it myself once, but ended up with a pan of brown mush that was so spicy it was inedible.
But I don't like to shun any vegetable - except for beets - I really have no desire to make an effort to like beets. So, I've roasted eggplant, I've sauteed it, etc... but no matter what, I just can't wrap my taste buds around its weird spongy texture. My mom fixed eggplant for dinner once when we were kids and left the peel on - my brother and sister and I decided it was like black electrical tape wrapped around a sponge!
I do still like the taste of it, though (the inside, not the peel), so I thought, why not embrace its soft texture by incorporating it into a smooth and creamy soup? Sweet red bell peppers seemed like they would be a yummy match for the eggplant.
But when I suggested this soup to Jamie the other day, he made THE FACE. You know the one. The face that says, what, no meat? And eggplant again, really? I assured him that it would be good the way I was going to make it. I'm not saying he doesn't like veggies - he eats pretty much anything - but he does like to have meat at dinner, too.
I started by roasting the peppers and eggplant with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then into the pot they went with shallots, garlic, lemon, red wine vinegar and spinach. A quick puree turned it into a beautifully smooth soup with a gorgeous orange color. Basil and parsley added a touch of freshness, and Parmesan cheese gave it a wonderful creaminess. A little crumbled turkey bacon on top made it not completely vegetarian, but it could certainly be left off.
With crusty pieces of garlic bread to dip in the soup, Jamie had to admit that it was good, and he even took leftovers to work for lunch. I loved the flavor of all the vegetables and herbs, the smooth creamy texture, and the crunch of the bread dipped in the soup. It was one of those meals that I couldn't wait to eat again the next day for lunch.
Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup with Spinach, Basil and Parsley
- 2 red bell peppers, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds and ribs discarded
- 2 eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- salt and pepper
- 1 large shallot, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- juice of 1 small lemon
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
- 4 cups fat free, low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano cheese
- 4 slices turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
- crostini or toasted garlic bread for dipping
Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil and place the cut bell peppers and eggplants on the baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle vegetables with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Peel the skin off the peppers and roughly chop the flesh. Scoop the eggplant flesh out of the peel and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.
In a stockpot, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the shallot, with a small pinch of salt, and cook for 3 minutes, until it starts to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and red wine vinegar and cook for 2 minutes. Add the roasted eggplant and bell peppers, the spinach and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth (or, working in batches, puree the soup in your blender).
Stir in the basil and parsley (reserving a small amount for garnish, if you like) and the grated cheese. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.
Simmer steadily over medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until soup has reduced slightly and is thickened to your liking.
Top each serving of soup with the crumbled turkey bacon, chopped basil and parsley, and an extra grating of cheese. Serve with crusty garlic bread or crostini.
Yields 4 servings.