Roasted Eggplant and Lentil Soup with Cumin, Lime, Mint, and Basil

If lentils were not the first vegetable man ever ate, they certainly were an early favorite. In 1967, when William Heinemann and Harvard University Press reprinted Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists in seven volumes, I plowed through four, and on the inside cover I listed what got my attention: “grilled sturgeon belly, scotch broth, pickled turnip, fresh cheese salad, underground refrigerators, sweet chickpeas, lentil soup with parsnips.” Since I love both lentils and parsnips, I tried the soup.

Ingredients

  • 12 Japanese eggplants, stems cut off
  • ½ cup lentils, washed, soaked for 1 hour
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 spig fresh thyme
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint
  • 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 pod ancho chili, stemmed, seeded, broken up in a food processorpod
  • 1 medium parsnip, peeled, cored, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup basil leaves
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon red chili flakes

Method

Make four equally-spaced cuts -inch deep lengthwise around each of the eggplants. Put them in a bowl with the olive oil, mint, thyme, garlic, 1 teaspoon of the cumin, and the ancho chili. Toss together, cover, and let marinate 1 hour.

Take out the eggplants, wipe them clean, saving the marinade, salt them, and cook over a low gas flame for about 8 minutes, turning them constantly. If you don’t have a gas stove, skip this step—you will miss a wonderful smoky flavor, but it is worth doing the soup anyway. Even better if you have a wood-burning “pizza” oven.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Put the eggplants in a pot with the parsnip and all the reserved marinade. Add ½ cup of the stock, cover, and sweat over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the lentils and the rest of the stock, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender enough to puree.

Puree everything and put through a medium-fine sieve.

Chop the basil leaves and mix them with the cream. Add a little salt and whisk until firm peaks form.

Heat the soup and season with salt, pepper, the remaining teaspoon of cumin, and the lime juice. Serve in warm open soup plates with a dollop of the basil cream in the center and the chili flakes on top of the cream.

Variations

Use mascarpone instead of the cream, and use fresh mint and basil with a touch of ancho chili puree instead of the flakes.

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