Some twenty years ago, if someone told me 'It's kathrikkai (eggplant) soup for dinner' I'd have won the 100 metre sprint. Yeah, eggplant was probably the only vegetable in my hate-list. Sometimes my tongue would itch after I ate a piece of this, so I hastily assumed that I'm allergic to eggplant and lost no time in informing all concerned about this significant development in my life!
The other two food items that didn't impress me with their strong tastes were asafoetida and gingelly oil. My grandmom would use 'katti-perungayam' (asafoetida cake) which was broken into tiny pieces, and a couple of small bits soaked in water in a small ceramic pot, ready to tip into any waiting sambar, rasam or kozhambu. Sometimes, a small chunk of this asafoetida would fall into the sambar and guess who's plate it would land into? Yours truly of course, and this bitter gooey smelly thing was enough to spoil my taste for the rest of the meal.
Gingelly oil or 'nalla yennai' - oil extracted from sesame seeds yet not exactly the taste of sesame oil used in Chinese cooking, is another favourite in Tamil homes. Used with thuvaiyals, used to light brass lamps and to mix molagai-podi, the spice powder had with idlis and dosais has a golden yellow almost amber colour and a distinct smell. In my younnnger days, my mom / granny had standing instructions from me that there would be no gingelly oil smeared on my idlis and the molagaipodi should be mixed in regular refined oil, not the 'smelly' oil.
Today, all of the above has reversed. May be my tam-bram genes are finally expressing themselves or I'm just growing up. I love eggplant, the big variety, which I use to make at least ten different things from all cuisines of the world. Type 'eggplant' in the search field on this blog, and you'll find at least ten results (I hope)
Asafoetida I cannot live without, in fact I have some four types of these in my pantry - LG Katti Perungayam, yes, the very same I loved to hate, Vandevi compounded asafoetida, Goldie's pure asafoetida granules and LG asafoetida powder. That should say it all.
Gingelly oil, I make sure I never run out - for the lamps we light everyday, for the idli / dosais we eat at least once a week and for the kozhambu / thuvaiyals we eat around once a fortnight.
How things change!
So coming back to what I said, if someone told me Brinjal Soup - I'd say ' God's must be crazy to give you such an idea' but today, the new and improved me, is making such stuff for a low-carb, healthy soup. I must say I got the inspiration for this from a column in The Hindu, but the recipe is entirely my own.
Makes two generous bowls
1 globe eggplant, medium sized (around 350 grams)
3 medium tomatoes
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
5 small cloves garlic
Some oil to smear on eggplant
1 tsp olive oil
3 cups water / vegetable stock
1 tsp salt or salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
Smear the eggplant with some oil and roast directly on the flame, turning sides*. In under 7 minutes, the skin will be completely charred and the eggplant softened right through. Keep aside to cool. Peel the skin, chop flesh roughly and keep aside.
One by one, pierce the tomatoes with a fork and grill on open flame, until entire skin is charred. Each tomato will take around 2-3 minutes. Peel when cool enough to handle. Chop roughly, discarding the seeds.
In a small wok, heat 1 tsp olive oil. Fry the garlic cloves and onion slices on medium heat, till golden and soft.
In a blender, puree the eggplant, tomato and softened onion-garlic to a fine paste, using water / vegetable stock as required. Season with salt, pepper. Bring this to a simmer in a pot, adding dried basil at this stage.
Remove in bowls, topping with some olive oil and freshly crushed black pepper. I topped mine with some Cajun seasoning for a nice kick.
Serve with soup sticks for a light dinner or with a nice foccassia bread and pasta for a complete Italian meal.
It was a yummy soup with deep adult flavours, a nice farewell to the lovely winter we experienced in this new city! I have a feeling, this soup will taste good chilled too.
*If you don't have access to an open flame, use the method described in the recipe from The Hindu