Mediterranean eggplant & bean soup with walnut swirl

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Mediterranean eggplant walnut soup

My book, Zest for Life, features a recipe for tarator, a delicious Turkish dip of walnuts, olive oil and dill that I often serve as a dip, as topping for pasta (one of my children’s favorites), or blended with raw cucumber and yogurt to make a refreshing summer soup. Like so many Mediterranean-diet recipes, it has multiple applications.

But tarator can be “winterized” too, as you can see here. This dish is loosely inspired by a recipe for eggplant-bean soup in Jamie Oliver’s “Naked Chef,” but we replace the ricotta cheese with tarator and add some smoked chilies and paprika powder. The result is a thick, nourishing soup that warms you through to the tips of your toes. Omnivores can make this with chicken stock for an even more nutritious dish; vegetarians can use vegetable stock instead, and vegans can leave out the yogurt in the tarator, simply adding a little extra walnut oil and water to thin the sauce. It’s all good. 

Soup

4 eggplants (aubergines)

2 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed

½-1 chipotle chili

Salt, pepper

15-oz/400g jar cannellini, great northern, navy or other white beans, drained

1 tbsp lemon juice

Tarator

1¼ cup walnuts, toasted for 5 minutes on a tray at 350/180

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

4 tbsp walnut or olive oil

6 tbsp plain yogurt

6 tbsp water

salt, freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp parsley, chopped

a pinch of smoked paprika powder as garnish

Instructions

Preheat broiler on “high.” Prick eggplants all around with a sharp kitchen knife, then lay on a baking tray and broil for 40-45 minutes: 10-12 minutes on each side until the skin begins to blacken and blister, then turn by a quarter rotation with the help of kitchen tongs to expose the next side. When the eggplants are blackened and blistered all around, remove tray from the oven and set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes. Once cooled, use a tablespoon to scrape the flesh out of the skins and set this aside.

In a large pot, warm oil on moderate heat and cook the chili and garlic for 30 seconds. Add the eggplant flesh and chop it up lightly with a wooden spoon. Add beans and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to “low” and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. With an immersion blender, process the soup to the desired consistency (I like to have some chunks left, but others may prefer a smooth soup) and adjust thickness by adding water or stock if desired.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the tarator. Pre-heat oven to 350°F/180°C. Put walnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 4-5 minutes until lightly fragrant but not darkened. Remove and cool for a few minutes while you put lemon juice, garlic, oil and yogurt in a small electric blender. Add 1 cup of the walnuts to the blender and process into a smooth emulsion, adding water until you obtain the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Coarsely chop the remaining nuts. Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with tarator, then sprinkle with chopped parsley, walnuts and a pinch of smoked paprika powder.