Here’s how I decide what to cook: I shop for things that are fresh in the store/market, and then rack my brain to find different ways to use them up. More prosaic than you might have thought, but that’s the truth of it (or at least most of the time).
Sure, I meal plan and all of that, but never in a restricted or limiting way. Poriyals make up the bulk of what we eat on a regular basis. So I’ll estimate maybe 10-12 vegetables without specifying which ones. That way I have the flexibility to buy what’s fresh, and also allow for a wider rotation without having to repeat the same things every week. We really lucked out though, since my husband and I literally walk down the aisle and pick out every single vegetable there is. There’s nothing that we don’t like, which makes grocery shopping doubly easy and gratifying.
With our regular meal items out of the way, it’s easier to experiment with other things. That extra chayote to make a salad, those lotus stems that I just can’t seem to walk away from, the plump (overpriced) plums that I’ll sulk-buy and try to eke out a dessert with, or the three different types of greens that need using up fast – scenarios where my brain goes into overdrive. Buying on a whim and then racking my brains to find creative ways to use them up. Not complaining though. In fact I look forward to it every week. (This week’s brain-racking came courtesy of parsley. I bought some to make an olive tapenade butter with, used a quarter of it, and have the rest shrivelling up in my fridge. Chimichurri with grilled chicken? Tabbouleh, but substituting bulgur with rava?! So many options! We’ll see how we go.)
That’s the story of how this pumpkin snuck into my ratatouille. I bought a big wedge of it, used half for a raitha, and had the rest sitting in the fridge almost past its prime that desperately needed using up. I figured the sweetness of the pumpkin would counter the extra kick from the chilli and chilli flakes, and also pumpkin is a great way to bulk up these multiple-veggie dishes. We loved it. And it’s been on rotation ever since.
Ratatouille is traditionally made in the oven – the vegetables are thinly sliced and fanned out in neat concentric circles before being baked. This process is not hard to do at all and may I say, even quite enjoyable. But I had ratatouille planned for breakfast. And as much as I am a morning person, that was too much even for me. Here you just fry off a few aromats before bunging everything into a pan and cooking over a low heat. I even jumped in for a shower whilst it was getting done.
Best served with crusty bread and a fried egg, but also works great as a side with grilled meats.
Note: I used locally grown small aubergines here, but substitute with the large variety if that’s what you can find.
STOVETOP RATATOUILLE WITH PUMPKIN
- 500 grams pumpkin, cubed
- 250 grams zucchini, cubed
- 5 large tomatoes
- 1 large aubergine or 6-8 small ones, cubed
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 fresh red or green chilli, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato powder/paste (optional)
- A small handful of basil leaves
- Black pepper, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water until the skins start to peel away. Remove and discard the skins. Purée the tomatoes in a blender and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large wide pan and add the pumpkin, zucchini, aubergine and red peppers. Cook covered until the pumpkin cooks down and a knife inserted into a piece yields without any resistance. (You still want them to retain their shape and not get mushy.)
- Transfer the vegetables to a plate using a slotted spoon. In the remaining oil in the pan, sauté the onions, garlic, green/red chilli, bay leaves, and chilli flakes.
- Once the onions start to lightly brown, add the tomato purée and tomato paste/powder if using. Tip the vegetables back into the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook covered over a low heat for 15-20 mins. Loosen with a little water if it appears too dry.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir in torn basil leaves. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add more chilli flakes if you want it spicier. Serve with crusty bread and a fried egg (optional). Can also be served as a side for grilled meats.