I’m temporarily based in the seaside town of Asilah, Morocco. Not far from here, the Mediterranean gives way to the Atlantic, and you can see Europe from the northwest corner of Africa. It’s a place I’ve come to during times of transition in my own life (after living in Morocco for over two years, this was the last place I spent the night before leaving in 2009), so it’s the perfect place for me to come and reflect as I get ready for yet another move (after two years spent in Beirut, Amman, and Cairo, I’ll be headed back stateside in August).
So of course, I’ve returned to an old recipe and a favorite dish: ratatouille, a classic Provençal eggplant stew. I’m always partial to the more rustic edges of cuisines (I’ve seen ratatouille referred to as “peasant” cuisine), and so it’s one of my favorite French concoctions. Of course, like so many Mediterranean dishes, there are Spanish, Italian, Greek, Algerian, and Turkish versions, too.
With eggplant so plentiful in Morocco, I’d frequently try my hand at it back during my days living in the Souss. But while my eggplant stews were always tasty enough, there was always something missing. So, five years later and maybe just a little bit wiser, I decided to tackle it again and see what happened. The result was an almost-sweet, olive-oil-simmered, harmonious gustatory chorus of vegetables.
Loosely based on The Kitchn’s One-Pot Ratatouille
For 3-4 servings, you will need:
1 large bell pepper
5 cloves of garlic
Salt & pepper
Whatever fresh herbs you can find wherever and whenever it is that you are
The last bit is the real departure from any classic ratatouille recipe: I firmly believe that the addition of fresh herbs to the dish is more important than the addition of any particular fresh herb; this way, you can adapt your recipe to any location and season. The classic recipe usually calls for fresh thyme and basil and a dried bay leaf. I used a hint of dried mint, plus fresh cilantro and parsley, and it was delightful.
Start by chopping your garlic and herbs finely and your other vegetables into small pieces, let’s say no more than an inch cubed. Chop your eggplant first and set it aside in a bowl, tossed with a generous amount of salt.
The linked recipe above is a one-pot recipe, but I like to use two to speed along the process a bit.
Start by sauteeing your onions in olive oil in one pot. When they start to turn translucent, add in the peppers and a pinch of salt. In the pot next door, cook the zucchini olive oil and salt as well. Everything should be cooking on low to medium low.
Once the zucchini has begun to soften and cook through, add it to the onions and peppers; mix these all together very well and turn on very low heat.
At last, toss the eggplant into the zucchini’s old pot and cook with plenty of olive oil for 10-15 minutes; then add this to the onion & pepper pot as well.
Adding a touch more olive oil, add the garlic to the pot where the eggplant was and after a minute or two, add the tomatoes and herbs. The tomatoes should have enough liquid to allow you to scrape up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot while the zucchini and eggplant were cooking (this is where all the delicious flavor is…).
Next, add the slowly sauteeing vegetables next door (keeping the onions and peppers stewing together on low throughout begins a caramelization process that will make your final stew to die for) back into the pot with the garlic and tomato.
Allow it to simmer, uncovered, on low, for about an hour. Towards the end, start adding salt – very carefully and just a bit at a time. The right amount will bring out the flavors amidst the sweetness of the vegetables, but too much will make you very very sad.
Garnish with more fresh herbs. Devour with couscous or fresh, hearty bread.