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Grilled Eggplant And Cider Soup

1/2 cup soybean oil (or another vegetable oil)

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1 large eggplant, peeled and diced large

1 small red onion, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/3 cup flour

2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock or broth

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2 cups apple cider

Salt and pepper to taste

1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced small

To ``grill'' eggplant, place partial amount of soybean oil in large pot (enough to cover bottom of pot and coat some of the eggplant) and bring to smoking point over high heat. Add eggplant in a small batch - only enough to coat bottom of the pot. Allow eggplant to brown until soft and very dark, then stir. (This gives grilling effect.) Remove browned eggplant and repeat with remaining oil and eggplant. With last batch of browned eggplant, add onions and garlic and caramelize (lightly brown).

Add tomato paste and reduce heat to medium. Stir in thyme and flour. Add stock and cider. Stir in the rest of the eggplant.

Bring to simmer for 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer soup to blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add apple to soup for garnish. Serves 10 to 20.

Note: Soup can be thickened through prolonged simmering or thinned with additional stock.

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