In the new cookbook I got for Christmas, Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat, there is a double page of 10 vegetable soup recommendations with topping suggestions, but no recipes (or I'm simply blind and missed them). One of the suggestions was Aubergine Soup with Harissa. As Aubergines were on sale and we seemed to have an endless supply of them, and because it sounded good, I decided to try it. Somewhere along the way I wasn't sure I would be able to get what I needed for the Harissa though and noticed that I had a jar of frozen nettles, so I thought of trying to make a spicy nettle sauce to top the soup. I did end up finding what I needed for the Harissa in the end, but still added the nettles. And then I remembered that I had Queso Blanco left over from my cheese making efforts. I decided I would top the soup with some of this too, and at the last minute added some of this to the harissa too - although at this point I don't think it can any longer be called harissa, but I don't know what else to call it. The soup came out beautifully with a deep, rich flavour, offset but a dash of lemon and the not-too-spicy Nettle Harissa. I found that the queso blanco certainly added something to the soup, but it would have worked well without for anyone wanting to make it vegan or keto friendly.
For the soup:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 head garlic, minced
2 - 3 c vegetable stock
1 tsp sumac
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Queso Blanco (or other fresh cheese) to serve
For the Harissa:
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 dried chilis, chopped
3 - 4 sundried tomatoes
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
3 - 4 tbsp olive oil
3 - 4 tbsp nettles (mine were briefly steamed then frozen)
1 tbsp queso blanco
juice of 1 lemon
1) Roast the aubergines in the oven under the broil setting at 200°C, turning regularly, until they are soft on the inside and browning on the outside (you could even let them get some char marks) - about 45 minutes to an hour. Cool and then chop.
2) Heat oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot. Sauté onions and garlic until soft and translucent.
3) Add the aubergine and the remaining soup ingredients except the cheese and cook for about 10 minutes. Blitz until smooth and set aside.
4) In a small frying pan, dry roast the cumin and coriander seeds until the first few begin to pop. Stir the pan around a few times to ensure even roasting. Remove from the heat.
5) In a blender, combine all the ingredients except the nettles and the queso blanco. Taste test, then add the nettles and blend again. Taste test, then add the cheese.
6) To serve, ladle soup into bowls. place dollops of the queso blanco around the perimeter of the soup then place briefly in a warm oven (100°C roughly) for a few minutes to encourage the cheese to melt a little. Remove and place a dollop of the harissa in the centre of the bowl.
I loved this and will certainly be coming back to it! Hubby and Little Bit liked it too. Little Bit is getting better at using a spoon, but after a few spoonfuls he gave up and started stuffing soup into his mouth by the fistful. Not a bad endorsement!
On a different note, I noticed recently that all of my cooking happens either while wrangling Little Bit, or while listening to and Audiobook. When linking the Broccoli and Cheese Scone recipe to the post about making mascarpone to pair with sweet scones, I suddenly had a vivid image in my head of a sedan chair being carried through rice paddies. It took me a second to place it, but then I realised that it was from WS Maugham's The Painted Veil which I had been listening to when I made the scones. After realising this, I scrolled back through older posts and for a fair number of the recipes I could effortlessly conjure up which part of which book I was listening to while making that recipe.
This being the case, I have decided to start including a note on what I was listening to at the time on some posts. While making this soup, I was listening to an early part of The Bridge of Sighs by Olen Steinhauer. It is a gritty muder/spy mystery taking place in the late '40s in Eastern Europe. While playing around with my nettles and aubergines, our young beleaguered inspector is following clues in a prominent murder case which he realises he has been given to fail... It's been a while since my last crime book and I thoroughly enjoyed it!