Long-time readers may recall that my friends and I dubbed 2013 The Year to Be Brave. That year we left our comfortable bubble of fun times in Washington, D.C., and set off to start grad schools and new jobs and have crazy experiences literally all over the world. Last year, 2014, we titled The Year to Be Awesome. Why? Because once we'd been brave in arriving at and settling into new places, new routines, and made new friends, it was time to excel at the things we'd expended so much bravery to do.
And here we are again, facing the start of a new year. Grad school – so long and yet so short! – is almost over, and what happens next is anyone's guess. But we've all done a lot and learned a lot and grown a lot. And so I christen year 2015 The Year to Be Confident. Because this is the year that we remember that we are competent professionals, capable adults, and all-around well-adapted individuals who can handle whatever 2015 has coming at us.
This leads me to my New Year's resolutions. One is to cook (real food, not desserts) following actual recipes. See, I cook almost every night. And I do like the food I make. But it's all variations on a theme (oh hey, bowl-o-dinner), and there are a lot of great recipes out there and cooking techniques that I don't even know I don't know! So my goal is to cook at least four real recipes from real cookbooks. This sounds modest, but last year my total recipe following count was one. Just one.
But that one, from "Jerusalem" cookbook, was pretty good and I learned a new (to me) technique: burnt eggplant. It sounds like the worst but it is the best – basically, the eggplant skin is burnt and the insides are roasted (but not dried out) and delicious. And it goes great in soup!
The following recipe is does not count towards my resolution because I made it up. But it's delicious and a great way to start off a very cold January. All the components are slow-cooked and sweet-savory and delicious. They're pureed with an immersion blender, but then you add barley and beans for something to chew on and some fresh garnishes on top to brighten things up. I served this at a dinner party with bread and salad and everyone said they loved it. It's completely vegetarian (and easily could be vegan) and also completely satisfying.
Roasted garlic, caramelized onion, butternut squash, eggplant soup
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 medium-sized yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 large eggplant
4-6 cups vegetable broth (or bouillon cubes)
1 tablespoon butter
1 bulb garlic
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper
1 cup Trader Joe's 10-minute barley (or any kind, I just like the speed of the quick-cooking kind)
1 large can (24 oz) white beans or chick peas, drained
Fresh basil, julienned
Plain yogurt (or sour cream or crème fraiche)
Grated cheese (sharp cheddar or mozzarella)
1. For the roasted garlic: Cut the top off the head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and wrap in tin foil. Roast in a 350 degree F., oven for at least an hour (I started the garlic, roasted it for an hour, then left it in the oven while the eggplant broiled).
2. For the burnt eggplant: Line a pan with tin foil. Stab the eggplant all around with a fork (so it doesn't explode). With the broiler on high, broil the eggplant for 15 minutes per side, about one hour total, until the skin is burnt and the eggplant looks deflated. Remove from the oven to cool before you touch it.
3. For the caramelized onions: In a medium-sized saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat until it smells delicious (pay attention so it doesn't burn!). Add the onions, stir, and turn the heat to low. Cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and sweet.
4. For the squash: Once the other components are on their way, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a soup pot. Add cubed butternut squash and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add broth to cover the squash, bring it to a boil, then turn it to a simmer. Simmer until squash is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Barley: Cook barley according to instructions.
Assembly: Add spices to squash and broth. Scrape insides out of the eggplant skin and add to the pot. Squeeze roasted garlic out of its husk and add to the pot. Add in caramelized onions. Use an immersion blender, if necessary adding more water or broth. Add beans and barley and cook for 5-10 more minutes.
Serve topped with a spoonful of yogurt, a sprinkling of basil, and cheese as desired.
Related post on Eat. Run. Read: Healthy Bowls O'Dinner!