Roasted Aubergine Soup with Dry-roasted Almonds
Portion/Yield:Serves 6 as a starter or light lunch
Aubergines are funny vegetables and I think you either like them or loathe them. To cook aubergines in oil you need to make sure your pan is really hot and cook the aubergines in batches, keeping them moving to colour them evenly and cook them thoroughly. This will ensure that the aubergines don’t absorb too much of the oil during cooking and then leave an unpleasant greasy mouthfeel. There is nothing worse than undercooked or greasy aubergines.
I got the inspiration for this lovely soup from a Middle Eastern dish called Imam Bayaldi that we used to make when I worked at a three-star Michelin restaurant in London. We served the rich and dark aubergine purée as a canapé in pretty little silver pots with slices of wafer-thin crispy ficelle (or toast, to you and me).
This recipe makes a generous amount of thick, smooth soup and even though I add no cream, the soup tastes rich and velvety. If you prefer a slightly thinner soup, you can thin it down with a little extra vegetable stock. I also like to garnish the soup with dry-roasted almonds and a swirl of natural yogurt.
Ingredients & Method
- 2 large aubergines (250–350g each), cut into 2cm dice
- table salt, for sprinkling, if needed
- 40g golden sultanas (or use regular sultanas if you wish)
- 1 bay leaf
- 100ml boiling water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon ras el hanout
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon clear honey
- 300g chopped fresh tomatoes
- 750ml vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons flaked almonds
- 2 tablespoons natural yogurt
- 2 spring onions, sliced
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
If you choose to salt your aubergines, then do so (see Cook’s Note). Put the diced aubergines into a colander and sprinkle with table salt, then leave them for 30 minutes. Rinse well and pat dry before sautéing them.
Meanwhile, put the golden sultanas and bay leaf in a bowl, pour over the boiling water and leave to soak for 15–20 minutes. Drain before use.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan and sauté half of the aubergines, with salt and pepper added, over a high heat for 10–12 minutes or until the aubergines are very dark in colour – not burnt but very well caramelised. Drain the aubergines in a colander. Cook the remaining aubergines the same way, adding another 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in the same pan, add the onion, garlic, ras el hanout and cumin and sauté over a high heat for 8–10 minutes or until the onion is golden brown. Stir in the honey and soaked (drained) sultanas and bay leaf.
Transfer the caramelised aubergines and onion mixture to a large saucepan and then add the tomatoes and stock. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer and then cook over a low heat, partly covered, for 25–30 minutes or until cooked and thickened. If you boil the soup too fast, the flavours will not develop and the liquid will evaporate, so a gentle simmer is perfect.
Remove and discard the bay leaf. Carefully transfer the soup to a blender and purée until smooth. Return to the pan and if the soup is a bit too thick for your liking, add a little more vegetable stock. Reheat gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
Meanwhile, heat a small, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, then dry-roast the flaked almonds in the hot pan for 1–2 minutes or until they have a golden tint. Remove from the heat.
Serve the hot soup in bowls. Garnish each portion with a swirl of natural yogurt, a sprinkling of spring onions and a scattering of the dry-roasted almonds. Serve.
Should you salt aubergines before cooking, or not? I suppose that’s the million-dollar question. Well, it works as follows: if you have young and very fresh aubergines like mine, that are harvested and cooked on the same day, then there is no need to salt. If they are a bit old, they might be bitter and will require salting. Aubergines are salted to draw out the bitterness. Remember not to over season your soup if you have chosen to salt beforehand. I didn’t need to salt my aubergines for this recipe, so I added a generous amount of seasoning while sautéing them, to achieve the right depth of flavour.