middle eastern ratatouille


We recently added another cookbook to our shelves. The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian by Sally Butcher, which is full of what can pretty much be described as my dream meals: savory breads, one pot meals, unexpected sweet concoctions. I've mentally bookmarked just about every page.

What got us started was Sally's suggestion for a Middle Eastern take on the classic ratatouille. Which, actually, has never been my favorite version of any of the vegetables involved. I prefer my veggies when they retain a little snap (save for roasting, which I am always in the mood for), so ratatouille doesn't normally do it for me. Still, I knew my affinity for the spice variety in Middle Eastern cooking could turn this whole thing around, and that it did. When you add the right dose of garlic, lemon, cumin and oregano, all the flavors just sing together, something like: dinnnnner is SERVED.

For this recipe, you'll need:

1 medium eggplant, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 large tomatoes, sliced
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 bay leaves
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
1 handful of chopped fresh parsley

Sally's original recipe also called for potatoes, which I nixed, in favor of putting them on the side as a Middle Eastern twist on potato salad: think more tahini and less mayonnaise. Actually, no mayonnaise at all. But if you'd rather keep it all together, you can also add two medium potatoes, diced and parboiled.

What's great about recipes like this is that aside from a little chopping prep work, you can throw it in the oven and get on with your evening. It also answers the question, "WHAT am I going to do with all this eggplant and zucchini?" as it piles up on your counter even late into September. This job hits two summer bounties with one stone. You get the idea.

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Toss all of your chopped vegetables together in a large casserole dish (or two medium ones, if you're like me). Coat generously with olive oil, oregano, cumin, lemon, salt and pepper. Arrange your smashed garlic cloves and bay leaves throughout your pan (or pans). Transfer to the oven for 1 1/2 hours (I knowww, I know) or until your vegetables are tender.

So, your best bet here is to not be STARVING when you start this dish. The cooking time is long: yes. But what I love about it is that it's not hands on (not even a little) and you can free yourself up to do other things while you wait. As much as I love cooking, which is a lot, sometimes it's good to get a little relief from the kitchen, especially as summer is coming to a close. Not that I'm complaining: a high of 70 degrees on the first day of fall? Exactly, world. I'll take it.

This dish is great served up with a scoop of fragrant rice (think jasmine or basmati), but is still tasty enough to stand up on its own. Sprinkle your parsley on top before serving, which adds a great freshness to your very cooked components. Happy equinox!