It has been a bit of a time for ya girl of late, what with - she says vaguely - one thing and another. Notably I spent the weekend firmly swaddled in illness due to kidney problems, which came with bonus excruciating back ache and the admittedly interesting conundrum of being both hellaciously feverish and shiveringly cold simultaneously. I have no idea what it is or what caused it or what its deal is, but something very similar happened to me back in 2007 so I guess it's just that my kidneys like to act the fool once every decade. Also, when it happened in 2007 it was misdiagnosed as a sprained rib, to which I was like "um, do you even know how unlikely that is and how sedentary I am", to which the doctor was like "nope definitely a sprain", henceforth giving me a lifelong suspicion of diagnoses.
Anyway, I read online that tomatoes are really good for your kidneys - on one of those websites that's all "make a tincture of parsley and sorrel and then when that's ready six weeks later make a rudimentary poultice and apply it to the hurty bit of you" (I had to spend an amount at the after-hours clinic that was so huge it almost made me cry in order to get a prescription for antibiotics, so you see why I was initially trying to cure it on my own using dirt and leaves and stuff.) The antibiotics have more or less swept away all the pain but I figured it couldn't hurt to up the tomato quotient in my life, in an attempt to appease my truculent kidneys.
This Ottolenghi recipe for burnt aubergine soup had caught my eye, but I really wasn't sure when I was going to make it, on account of my opportunities to cook for myself are few and rare. Luckily the hand of fate intervened! I had some appallingly bad nightmares which woke me up at 4.30am the other day, and could not go back to sleep no matter how firmly I squeezed my eyes shut and listened to soothing meditation videos telling me I'm a good person who's definitely relaxed and sleepy. By 8am I realised I really wasn't going back to sleep, and in the feverish grips of all that, decided I might as well be productive with all this time. Making soup suddenly felt like a really good use of my morning, so I hurtled to the supermarket, bought the ingredients (hurrah for having spontaneous cooking whims post-payday) and started making it, all before 9am.
I think I say this in every single post about soup that I've ever done, but...soup usually really doesn't appeal to me that much. It's just a bowl of wet stuff! There's not nearly enough crispness and crunchiness! You can't deep-fry soup! And so on. This soup is super excellent though; the smoky grilled eggplant against a backdrop of rich tomato; the fried cubes of eggplant on top providing proper texture and silky oiliness with every bite, the feta being delicious feta.
The recipe below looks horrifyingly long, and I shan't candy-coat it for you: this recipe does take up quite a lot of time. But it's so easy! And I just wanted to talk you through all the steps to make sure I had explained it all properly. Really all the instructions you need for this soup are grill, fry, heat, stir, blend, eat.
burnt aubergine soup with fried aubergine, tomato and feta
adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. I know we call them eggplants here in New Zealand but the recipe itself calls them aubergines and it sounds more poetic. So.
three large eggplants
plenty of olive oil
one large onion, finely diced
one and a half teaspoons ground cumin
a teaspoon of sugar
a tablespoon of lemon juice
one can of crushed tomatoes
a stock cube of your chosen persuasion
First, deal with your eggplants. Turn the grill on your oven to as high as it will go, stab two of the eggplants a few times with a knife, and then put them on a baking tray preeettty close to the grill. Leave them there for what will feel like hours, but is probably an hour maximum, turning them occasionally. Don't worry if they're all blistered and deflated looking, it's what we're going for here. Remove them from the oven, allow them to cool a little - or don't, if you're impatient like me - and remove the skin, which should be crunchy and fall away with a little encouragement. I ate the lot, discard it if you like. Place the frankly weird looking eggplant flesh into a sieve set over a bowl, and allow it to sit there weirdly while you get on with everything else.
Take the remaining eggplant, dice it into small squares, and then in a saucepan that you'll later make the rest of the soup in, heat up about an inch of olive oil till it's sizzling. Fry the cubes of eggplant, in batches if necessary, letting them really just sit there in the hot oil so they get properly browned, before carefully turning them over so they darken on the other side. Add more oil before tipping the next batch of eggplant in if need be. Just deal with how much oil this uses. Carefully remove the browned crispy pieces to a sieve over a bowl and sprinkle with salt (this bit is honestly probably not that necessary? Unlike the earlier sieving bit.) And try really, really hard to not eat the lot.
Okay now you're finally done with all the damn prep stuff, and you can actually make soup. With the remaining oil in the pan (there should be around a tablespoon or so) gently fry the onion for five to ten minutes till it's very soft. Add the cumin, the lemon juice, sugar, can of tomatoes, stock cube and then fill up the tomato can with water from the tap and tip that in. Add another can full of water if you like and want the soup to go further. Let all this simmer briskly till it has thickened and reduced a little and, you know, looks like the makings of some literal soup.
Finally! Add the eggplant flesh to the pan (the burnt stuff, not the fried stuff) and either puree it with a hand-held stick blender thingy, if you have one, or do the stressful thing and transfer it perilously to a food processor and blitz thoroughly. I did the latter, and it doesn't make it entirely velvety but any texture is pleasing, so, whatever. It's just so much more of a pain to clean and also it might fly everywhere and you might spill it while getting it in and out of the processor bowl, but anyway. You now have your soup. Ladle into bowls, top generously with the fried eggplant cubes and crumble over plenty of feta.
Serves two-ish. You could add another can of tomatoes if you want it to go further.
As well as changing some details I reduced the original recipe's quantities, but if I were you making this I'd increase the quantities of the liquid and the eggplant just because if you're going to that much damn time-consuming effort you might as well get a ton of soup out of it and feed an appreciatively gasping crowd. Is it worth it just to do all that for yourself though? Of course! There's no one more important than me. Is what you should be saying to yourself. I know I hear it enough to occasionally believe it. For real though, this soup has such excellent depth of flavour and the fried eggplant bits are so compulsively good: it is so much more than just a bowl full of wet stuff.
A bright firework of light through all this is that today is the five year anniversary of my friend Kate and I meeting each other at Mighty Mighty in a breathless, hand-clasping fashion, and ALSO Lucy Liu's birthday. We both love Lucy Liu with the fire of a thousand fires so let's just say it is feeling auspicious up in here. I can't believe my life has been this blessed for five years now and I also can't believe I didn't meet Kim, the third prong in our equilateral triangle of friendship, till halfway through the following year.
one of my favourite photos of Kate and I, this is pretty much how our initial meeting went too.
All of everything else aside, I know it's a dull take but I CANNOT BELIEVE it's literally December now. I'm not ready! Also December always makes me super introspective and I'm already feeling introspective so it's all just a double helix of feelings. On the upside, the smell of pine sends me into catnip-esque conniptions and we have erected an enormous, splendidly bushy real Christmas tree at work, every time I pass it by I feel more and more seasons greetings-y. Thanks, Pavlov's Christmas tree!
title via: Parklife! Man I used to have the crushiest crush on Blur's Damon Albarn. I literally wrote angrily in my diary in 1996 about him dating Justine Frischmann from Elastica; as if their being together somehow made him less accessible to me than he already was.
Turkey Lurkey Time from the 1969 musical Promises, Promises. It's my own personal Christmas tradition that every time the first of December comes around, then and only then will I rewatch this video of this utterly ludicrous song being performed. Honestly the song is ridiculous but I'm in it for the incredible dancing, especially from Donna McKechnie who blatantly has elastic where her bones should be. It's hard to explain, but this is just weirdly important to me. The video, not the consistency of her bones, I mean.
One Direction, Hey Angel. I had very low expectations for these guys post-Zayn, but UGH this is such a good song. It is just so big and manipulative and I love it heartily.
next time: hopefully some exponentially increasing xmas spirit and exponentially decreasing introspection. And chilled out kidneys.