My friend Dan’s two favorite foods are eggplant and grapefruit. When I started the Fountain Avenue Kitchen in 2012, he issued a request: please forward any good recipes using these two ingredients. (Not necessarily in the same recipe, of course!)
Over the years, I’ve sent Dan a long list of recipes that seemed to be up his alley. Many times, I’d stumble upon a recipe and forward it without trying first, so I’d issue a disclaimer: “I haven’t made this so I can’t vouch for the recipe, but it looks like it has potential!”
After all this time, I rarely see a recipe highlighting one of these two ingredients without thinking of Dan and his family. The best part is that it’s become a fun reason to reach out and say hello.
One such recipe came to light during my mother-in-law’s annual Christmas cookie baking get-together last year. In the course of conversation, my sister-in-law, Christine, mentioned that one of her favorite soup recipes included eggplant. She’d regularly make a batch of the hearty soup and freeze several portions for future work lunches.
Certain that I’d found a winner for Dan, I asked if she would share the recipe with me. She did, and I promptly passed it along.
I’ve also made this satisfying soup several times for my family. With its base of ground beef and tomatoes, this filling meal somehow reminds me of my recipe for unstuffed cabbage rolls, with eggplant instead of cabbage, of course!
The extended cook time is largely hands-off and allows the eggplant and tomatoes to break down and create a thick, velvety texture. In fact, the first time I served this soup, my husband, Jack, asked if I actually included the eggplant. Eggplant doesn’t rank high on his list of favorites, so he thought I might have left it out for his benefit. In reality, the taste is quite subtle and the small pieces blend in a way that adds to the texture in a supporting player kind of role.
When I referred to the soup by name, Jack recommended that I omit the word “eggplant,” thinking it might dissuade people who share his perception of eggplant from trying the recipe. I decided that its presence would quickly be noticed in the ingredient list, and that perhaps Jack’s testimonial might be enough to encourage a fellow eggplant-avoider to give it a try.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and add with the other dry seasonings)
- 1 pound eggplant, diced (about 4-1/2 cups, cubed, or 1 medium; no need to peel)
- 3/4 cup sliced or diced carrots
- 3/4 cup sliced celery
- 2 (14.5-ounce) cans Italian diced tomatoes, with juices
- 1 (32-ounce) box beef broth
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup dry macaroni (optional; use gluten-free if needed)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (may substitute fresh parsley)
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan, soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and cook the onion, beef, and garlic until the beef is evenly brown, breaking up the beef as you go. Drain excess grease if necessary, and then add the eggplant, carrots, celery, and tomatoes with juice. Pour in the beef broth, followed by the sugar, salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg. (Add the garlic powder here, too, if using.)
- Bring the soup to a boil, and then cover and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for approximately 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so, or until the eggplant is very soft and the tomatoes are starting to break down. Add the macaroni, if using, in the final 10 minutes.
- At the hour mark, or when the macaroni is al dente, remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan and basil. Optionally, the Parmesan may be passed at the table and used as a topping.
- The flavor of this soup improves over time making it a perfect make-ahead meal. If possible, I prepare it an hour or two in advance to allow the flavors to meld. (The finished soup can sit at room temperature for up to two hours without being refrigerated. Reheat gently.) Leftovers will taste great over the following 4-5 days.
- Christine often freezes this soup in single-size serving containers for convenient lunches and sometimes uses ground turkey instead of ground beef.
- If tempted to add more pasta, you’ll need more broth. Optionally, you can cook the pasta separately and add it to the cooked soup as desired.
Despite conventional wisdom, most eggplants aren’t bitter. However, eggplants that were picked too late or those that aren’t particularly fresh are more likely to have a bitter flavor. Large eggplants that are bitter and seedy were likely given too much time to mature. To ensure best taste and texture, look for smaller eggplants with smooth, shiny skin that feel heavy for their size. Also, the stem should be green. To test for ripeness, lightly press a finger against the skin. If it gives a little and then springs right back, the eggplant is ripe. If the imprint stays, it’s overripe. If there’s no give, the eggplant was likely picked a little too early. Eggplants are best stored in the refrigerator and eaten within a week.
Did you know? Eggplants are a member of the nightshade family and, though commonly thought of as a vegetable, are botanically classified as a berry.