A "new to me" blog I discovered recently is Blue Kale Road. I was lured in when I came across this post for a Persian spice blend called Advieh and a Kidney Bean and Barberry Kuku, an adaptation of an Ottolenghi dish. By the time I'd read to the end, I was hooked - after all, any woman who cooks Ottolenghi is a woman after my own heart. I've continued to enjoy Hannah's posts ever since, and when she recently stopped by my blog and suggested that I join the Tasting Jerusalem group (a group dedicated to cooking their way through Ottolenghi's book, Jerusalem:A Cookbook), I was in.
The challenge this month is couscous, and we had the option of making Couscous with Tomato & Onion or Burnt Aubergine & Mograbieh (Israeli couscous) Soup. I had all good intentions of making the couscous with tomato and onion, but as it happened I had a pile of aubergines in the veggie bin which needed using up, so soup it was. Besides, I'd had this one bookmarked for a while, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to make it.
This week is also Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, where we continue our journey with Yotam Ottolenghi, so this post is doing double duty.
Now I did take quite a few liberties with the recipe, and what follows is my adaptation. If you want the original recipe you'll find it on page 141 of the book.
Firstly - "burning" the aubergines. Ottolenghi offers a method for doing this of lining the base of a gas hob with tin foil and then blackening the aubergines directly in the flame. This smacks to me of "mess" and also having to stand over the flame and keep moving the aubergines around. His alternative suggestion is doing them in the oven under a hot grill. My method of choice is doing them on the barbeque - altogether less mess and less fuss, and works perfectly. You do want to make sure first of all that you make a few long slashes through the skin in each one - helps to prevent any possibility that they might explode!!
Secondly, the recipe calls for slicing onions, chopping tomatoes and mincing garlic. As it turns out I have on hand several batches of homemade sauce, which contains all of those ingredients, inspired by this sauce from the lovely Nicola at Homegrown Kitchen. Although I love making things from scratch, I can also be incredibly lazy, so it made no sense to me to go through all that chopping and slicing again, when I could just bust out a cup of that sauce.
Thirdly, in addition to the burnt aubergine which gets blitzed into the soup base, Ottolenghi fries additional aubergine which serves as a garnish to the finished soup. Fried aubergine, I have to say, just doesn't happen in my world - although it is undeniably delicious, I don't have the patience for standing over pans of frying aubergine, not to mention the amount of oil that it uses. Much easier, less messy (and no doubt healthier) to toss with a little olive oil and bake in the oven.
The final dish exceeded all my expectations. The flavour is deep, smoky and intense, and the mograbieh (also known as Israeli couscous) along with the chunks of roasted aubergine add great textural interest. Now I know that there are those amongst you who could eat soup every night of the week - I am not one of those people. Soup is something I do on occasion, but it's definitely not a "go-to" dish for me. Well let me tell you that this is the soup that could potentially change all that - this is so good that I feel like I want to eat this every night for the rest of my life ... or at least until the next great Ottolenghi dish comes along.
Burnt Aubergine & Mograbieh Soup Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
Makes 4 generous servings
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
3x large aubergine
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup roasted vegetable sauce (see above)
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
zest & juice of 1x lemon
100g (3-1/2 oz) mograbieh (Israeli couscous)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves
flaky sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).
Cut one aubergine into large dice, toss generously with olive oil, and spread in a single layer in a shallow, parchment-lined baking dish. Season liberally with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put into the hot oven and bake until the aubergine pieces are golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, cut a few long slashes through the skin of the remaining two aubergine, and put onto the grill of a hot barbeque. Turn regularly and cook until the skin is black and flaky and the flesh is soft - about 15-20 minutes.
Remove the aubergines from the heat and leave until cool enough to handle. Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out the soft flesh in long strips and discard the blackened skin. Put the flesh into a sieve set over a bowl for any water to drain out of the flesh while you continue with the rest of the dish.
Now heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and as soon as they are fragrant and sizzling, add the tomato paste. Cook for a moment or two, stirring constantly, until the tomato paste is "caramelised". Add the roasted vegetable sauce, chicken stock, water, lemon juice (reserve the zest), salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, set a small pan of water over high heat and bring to the boil. Salt the water liberally, and add the couscous to the boiling water. Cook exactly as you would any pasta, until al dente. Drain and refresh under cold water.
Now add the burnt aubergine flesh which has been draining to the soup. Remove from the heat and, using a stick blender, puree till smooth. Reserve some of the oven-baked aubergine and couscous for garnishing and add the rest to the soup.
Simmer for another few minutes to heat everything through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately in warm bowls, with a sprinkling of the reserved aubergine and couscous on top. Garnish with a little lemon zest and basil, and finish with a generous swirl of your very best extra virgin olive oil.
Lip-smacking, drooling and orgasmic sighs as you devour this are all totally permissible.
If you would like to get to know Yotam Ottolenghi a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...
... or check out Jerusalem and Ottolenghi's other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Fishpond NZ.
I'm also sharing this post this week at Tasting Jerusalem (Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, and liking our Facebook page), at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the lovely, and often hilarious, Michelle at Ms. enPlace, and at Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays hosted by my friend Deb at Kahakai Kitchen.