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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Moroccan Eggplant Bisque w/ Mint Yogurt

About 10-days ago my favorite restaurant in Durham, NC, Magnolia Grill, announced they were closing their doors after 26 years. Luckily, both Ben and Karen (co-chefs) have released cookbooks over the years with some of their, and their customers', most favorite recipes; whereas my family will no longer be able to eat at MG, we'll be able to cook their recipes forever.

Ben explains that this soup is the favorite of the waitstaff due to its complexity of flavors. He's right- its dynamite. It is the best soup I have ever made. And it has nothing to do with my cooking skills. THIS RECIPE IS PERFECTION. Warning: its a lot of ingredients, but its really really worth it. Serves 6-8 as a main course and freezes well.

SOUP INGREDIENTS
2 large eggplants (~2 pounds)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 jalepenos, stemmed, seeded, diced
8 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
2 tablespoons Moroccan spice blend (see recipe below)
generous pinch of saffron
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
2 cups canned tomatoes, seeded & chopped, juices strained & reserved
6 cups chicken stock
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

GARNISH INGREDIENTS
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons Moroccan spice blend
olive oil
6 ounces plain yogurt
1 tablespoon slivered fresh mint
1/3 cup cilantro leaves

MOROCCAN SPICE BLEND
2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1 teaspoon ground cloves
4 inches of a cinnamon stick

Making the Moroccan Spice Blend....
Pour the ingredients into a spice grinder and grinding until all a fine powder. Cover tightly and reserve.

Making the Bisque...
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, prick the eggplants all over with a fork, and roast the eggplants whole, for about 35-45 minutes, or until soft and partially collapsed. Remove from oven, cut in half, scrape some of the seeds out and remove the skin. Reserve the roasted flesh.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic cloves, jalepenos, Moroccan spice, saffron, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, then add the tomatoes, with their juices, the roasted eggplant, and the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf and puree the soup in batches in the food processor (or with an immersion blender). Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.

Make the Soup Garnish...
While the soup is simmering, rub the chicken thighs with the spice blend and olive oil to coat. Season with salt and bake on a rack in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool slightly and cut or shred into 1/2-inch chunks. Reserve.

Next, combine the yogurt and slivered mint and set aside/refrigerate if not using immediately.

Assembly...
Make sure the soup is hot and adjust the seasonings as needed (if its too thick, add more chicken broth; if it doesn't have enough flavor, try more salt; add more lemon juice if you want more of an acidic kick). Divide the chicken between 6 bowls (or reserve some of the chicken if you aren't serving that many people), and ladle hot soup into the bowls, with a dollop of the mint yogurt on top. Sprinkle with extra cilantro and serve. I did not even make it to the table when I ate it- I stood over the counter and inhaled it.

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