February 13, 2012

Tamarind Spiced Roasted Eggplant Soup

I do not tolerate the cold.  My teeth chatter at the slightest hint of a temperature dip.  Since I'm stuck with DC winters for at least another 3 years, I figured I should find a culinary respite in the mean time.  This tamarind spiced eggplant soup is so comforting to me.  The first layers of flavor are created by roasting eggplants, tomatoes, and garlic.  The spices are sauteed before any liquid is added to allow their flavor to permeate every bite.  The silky coconut milk is a nice change to stock and cream based soups and adds sweetness to contrast with the spices.  Finally, the tamarind gives it a delicious and unexpected underlying tang.  All in all, a balanced, hearty, and warming soup perfect for a dreary winter day.

Tamarind Spiced Roasted Eggplant Soup
Tamarind is the fruit pulp of an african tree with notes of sweetness and tartness.  I used a tamarind concentrate that I found at my local asian market.  It is used in thai, mediterranean, indian, and mexican dishes, but you may know it best as one of the bajillion ingredients in Worcestershire sauce (affectionately, whatsinhere sauce).  The flavor is concentrated, so a little definitely goes a long way.

Concentrated Tamarind: The Unsung Hero!

As a note, this is my first post with my new big girl camera.  I was inspired to upgrade based on this picture from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, so I thought this would be an appropriate ode to her and her inspiring photography.

Tamarind Spiced Roasted Eggplant Soup
For Roasting:
2 medium eggplants
4 roma tomatoes
~20 cloves of garlic

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Slice the eggplants and tomatoes in half and arrange on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Coat lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  In a separate foil pouch, prepare the garlic cloves for roasting with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper.  

Seal up the pouch, place it on the baking sheet, and roast for about 50 minutes.  Pull off the eggplant and return the sheet to the oven for another ten minutes. 

For the soup:
1 small red onion, diced
1/2 tsp fresh ginger
1.5 tbsp tamarind concentrate
2 tsp tumeric
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1/4 tsp ground mustard seed
2 (13.5 oz) cans of coconut milk
3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock to make this vegetarian)
2 bay leaves
Roasted vegetables
salt and pepper to taste

While the vegetables are roasting, start the soup by sauteing the diced red onion in olive oil over medium high heat; season with salt and pepper.  When the onion is caramelized, add the ginger.  After about 1-2 minutes, add the tamarind concentrate and let it reduce for about 2 minutes.

Sauteed Onions, Ginger, and Tamarind Concentrate
Now it's time to add the spices!  From tumeric to mustard seed, add the spices and a little more oil, salt and pepper as needed.  It will create a thick mixture, almost paste like.

Spice Paste, Ready for Coconut Milk
Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil and simmer to reduce while the vegetables finish roasting.  Once the eggplant is cooled, remove the skins and add to the soup along with the roasted tomatoes and garlic.

Blend the soup to create a thick, velvety texture.  I used my immersion blender (after turning off the burner!), but you can mix in batches in a blender.  Now is the time to adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper, maybe a dash more of chili powder if you like things hot!

Allow the soup to simmer for another half an hour.  The finished product is INCREDIBLE and the best possible combo for a cold day.  I topped mine with greek yogurt for added protein, roasted chick pea "croutons", and fresh cilantro.

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