Ratatouille is one of those dishes that always sounds really good in theory: peak-season vegetables stewed together in a rich, tomato sauce with herbs and olive oil. How could this be anything but delicious? But whenever I’ve ordered it at a restaurant, my high hopes have been dashed with a pile of mushy vegetables that isn’t really a soup, or a stew or even a main dish.
After a farmer’s market blow out last week, I was preparing a bunch of veggies for the grill: eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and considering a tomato-basil salad for the side. As the veggies were grilling it dawned on me that I had everything I needed to make ratatouille. My first instinct was to run and grab the veg off the barbeque, but I stopped myself realizing the great potential of adding the grilled goodies to the tomato base instead of the traditional method of cooking everything together. Would this simple change-up make the difference and prevent mushy-ness? It was just crazy enough to work.
I got to caramelizing onions on the stove to create the base, then added garlic, tomatoes, lemon slices and balsamic. So far, so good. The veggies were beautifully charred and grill-marked when I went to check on them, so I pulled them off, gave them a rough chop and added them to the simmering tomato mixture. So far, so really good.
As I was contemplating how to make this a more substantial meal, I remembered that I had cooked lentils in the fridge. If you recall my slightly gripe-y post about restaurants halfway catering to vegetarians with dishes that were delicious but not all that “complete”, you’ll see how traditional ratatouille definitely falls into this category. The quickest fix and simplest solution is adding lentils, in those cases and this one. So without hesitation the pulses took the plunge and not only added protein and fiber, but gorgeous texture and colour as well. For the win!
The final result is something I am pretty stoked about and definitely making again. It’s a rich-tasting, chunky, hearty summer-in-a-bowl. My ratatouille may not have much in common with the classic version beyond its base ingredients, but I think that it’s far more filling and delicious. The grilled veggies prevent the mushiness from taking hold, as they miraculously hold their shape and tenderness while adding a bonus flavour layer of smokiness. If you don’t have lentils, chickpeas or white beans would make fabulous stand-ins. You can also leave the legumes out altogether, but they definitely turn this light side dish into a more complete meal.
To take my Grilled Vegetable Ratatouille over the top, serve it with plenty of olive oil drizzled over the top and a solid hunk of bread or toast on the side. This dish keeps well for up to four days in the fridge, or I imagine in the freezer for a few months. I’ve already made another batch for a future dinner – I can hardly wait for the next time I’m too tired to cook.
¾ cup / 150g black or du Puy lentils (about 1 ½ cup cooked or 1 can), optional
1 large red onion
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
4 cloves garlic
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 pint mixed large tomatoes (whatever your market / store has in season)
2 14oz / 400ml cans whole tomatoes
4 slices of lemon
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 large eggplant
2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
2 small green zucchini
1 small yellow zucchini
generous handful fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
small handful fresh oregano leaves
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
cold-pressed olive oil for garnish
crusty wholegrain sourdough bread or toast, for serving, optional
1. If possible, soak the lentils overnight or for up to 12 hours. Drain, rinse and place in a pot and cover with about 2 inches / 5cm fresh, cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender – about 10-15 minutes if you’ve soaked them, or about 20 minutes if un-soaked. Drain any excess water and set aside.
2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the ratatouille base: slice the onion into thick rings and add them to a large saucepan with the coconut oil and salt. Once the oil has melted, stir to coat the onions and them let cook, stirring occasionally until the onions have lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Mince the garlic and add it to the onions, cook for a couple minutes until fragrant. Add the canned tomatoes and use the back of a large spoon to crush them up a little.
3. Roughly chop the large tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, leaving a few of the cherry tomatoes whole. Add all of the tomatoes to the pot and stir to combine. Add the lemon slices and balsamic vinegar, bring to a low simmer and cook covered while you grill the vegetables.
4. Preheat your grill to medium-high. Slice the eggplant and zucchini into rounds and slice the peppers in half then remove the seeds. Place the vegetables on the grill and close the lid. Cook for 5-7 minutes until the underside has slight grill marks. Flip and continue to grill on the other side until the vegetables are tender but not mushy. Let cool slightly, then roughly chop into bite-sized pieces.
5. Add the grilled vegetables to the pot along with the lentils, basil, oregano and thyme. Taste and add salt and freshly cracked black pepper to suit your taste. Stir well, bring to a simmer and let cook for about five minutes. Divide ratatouille among bowls. Drizzle generously with olive oil, garnish with basil, and serve hot with crusty bread.
The next thing I’m going to tell you has been the second most difficult secret I’ve ever kept…I’ve written another cookbook!!! It’s called Naturally Nourished: Healthy, Delicious Meals made with Everyday Ingredients, and it will be available for purchase February 14, 2017.
This book was a major departure from the first cookbook, and a true response to the feedback I’ve received from you. Some readers found the ingredient lists from the first book too daunting, expensive, or unfamiliar, so the recipes from this next one can all be found at a discount grocery store! I wanted to remind everyone (including myself) that we all have access to fresh, healthy food in our supermarket, and that by preparing it consciously with simple techniques, we can make incredibly tasty meals every day on any budget. I absolutely loved creating this book as it pushed myself to the creative limits. I am so proud of the recipes and I know you’re going to love them as much as I do!
I’ll keep you all updated as far as pre-orders go and my book tour. Thank you all again for inspiring me to write this book!
Show me your Grilled Vegetable Ratatouille on Instagram: #MNRratatouille