On the northeast side of Indianapolis, there's a restaurant called Kabob Korner, an Afghan restaurant that has some pretty good kabobs, but also a magical soup called Aush. It is neither vegan nor vegetarian, but I mention it because trying to figure out its ingredients has become a bit of a parlor game for my foodie friends and me. It has a complex but singular flavor that is very difficult to separate into its component parts. It is also addictively good, a wonderful winter dish that nevertheless hits the spot in summer.
Can vegan food deliver something with the same mysteriously delicious impact? Let's just give away the end right now. Yes.
I approached Tomato & Roasted Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas (p. 179) with a measure of suspicion. I loathed eggplant as a kid, and even though I like it now, I mostly prefer it in formats where it ends up pureed or melted away. But this one keeps the eggplant in relatively large pieces, so I had to cook this with some faith.
You start out roasting some vegetables. You cut some eggplant quite thickly (possibly I didn't do it quite thickly enough, as we'll see), but you also need to roast some red bell peppers (orange or yellow will do as substitutes, but not green), and some garlic. Here it is as it first goes in the oven:
Regarding the parchment paper in the picture above, when I put it on the baking sheet, I didn't realize it's not really necessary for the cooking process at all. I didn't notice in the recipe that Terry & Isa go on to say that you don't really need the parchment if you don't care about how your baking sheets look. To which I say, if you care about how your baking sheets look, perhaps you have misplaced priorities in the kitchen. Don't bother.
This is how everything looks when you bring the roasting vegetables out of the oven the first time (the red bell peppers get off at this stop--everything else goes back in).
While the vegetables are roasting, start cooking the base for the soup. You're looking at onions, tomatoes, white wine, garlic, and a magical, if improbable, spice mixture of tarragon, thyme, coriander, paprika, salt, and bay leaves.
My only complaint about this recipe is this: while you're getting the base going, the eggplant and garlic come out of the oven. What T&I don't warn you about is that their instructions are going to bring your eggplant to the brink of burning, and I ended up having to toss maybe 1/5 of my eggplant slices because they were charred husks. Which means either the oven was too high (the recipe calls for 450), or I needed to slice my eggplant more thickly, or I just needed to watch the whole thing closer. In any case, I had enough eggplant to keep going.
Keeping going basically means dropping the eggplant into the stew. Also, the recipe will have instructed you to put the roasted red peppers into a plastic bag to allow the skins to steam off. This process works. Once the stew is good and simmering, it looks like this:
It needs to cook 20 minutes. After that, you'll take the garlic you've roasted and squeeze each clove into the soup, and let it stand for a while. I also squeezed in half a lemon. Let it sit for another 15 minutes or so.
Finally, serve it! On the side, I just made some kale according to almost exactly the same method as the stir-fried greens from the last post, just switching the ingredients up a bit to make things a bit more Mediterranean (added olive oil, subtracted soy sauce, added tomatoes, extra garlic). Good stuff.
And here's the final presentation. This was really excellent. The flavor was unplaceable, but really compelling, and the greens were a great side. Iv and I each took it again for lunch the next day, and it was even better. I'm going to chalk the success up to tarragon -- it's an herb I've never felt totally comfortable using because it's so very closely associated with French cooking (which I don't know very well). But this flavor combo plus the nearly-burned eggplant? Awesome. This one may be the best recipe in the book so far, and probably the first one where I really learned something new. Make this one, kids, even if you don't like eggplant.