One thing not to compromise when you work without meat is yumminess. What ingredients have Yum? Well, tomatoes do, olive oil, braised onions – that sort of stuff. So here’s an autumny veggie stew based on these ingredients:
Using this as a side dish for two you need1/2 onion, thinly sliced chopped garlic if you like
about 10 okra, bases and stems cut off and pre-boiled for 5 minutes in salted water (look here for more information)
2 small green zucchini or three really small ones, cut into okra-size lengths
1/4 of an eggplant in quarter-inch cubes 2 or 3 big ripe tomatoes, or more small ones, without their skin, cubed
a ripe red pointy mild pepper, cut into thin strips c. 2 inches long salt and ground pepper to taste, half a teaspoon of marjoram, chopped fresh parsley, a quarter teaspoon or less ground cayenne pepper, about half a teaspoon full ground cumin (this is the important secret ingredient), 1 bay leaf and an insane amount of olive oil – begin with 6 tablespoons and work your way up until you can’t stand it any more. I didn’t use it, but I believe a dash of dry white wine would do fine as well.
As a main dish for two, one would need to approximately double this recipe. If the balance is right, it is insanely good. Important, of course, is that every single kind of the vegetables is impeccably fresh. What you don’t want in a dish like this is bitterness, rubbery-ness or any other kind of lack of punch. Today, the squash and the cherry tomatoes came straight from the garden, the eggplant was firm and crisp and the okra were green and sturdy. It helps.
In a heavy cast-iron pot (if youv’e got one), slow-brown the onion in the oil. Let it cook a while on low heat – don’t over-brown the lot. Add garlic (if you’re using some), add the red pepper strips, cook on for a minute, then add all the spices and herbs including the fresh parsley. Cook until the parsley starts to sizzle. Add the eggplant cubes.
Stir and watch so the eggplant doesn’t use up all the oil. You may need to add a tablespoon or so more oil. Add the tomato bits and the salt. There’s no need to overdo the salt, but remember that veggie dishes taste really bland if you’re too careful. Use the salt like a wise one but not like a blood-pressure quack. Stir and cook until the juice of the tomatoes starts to show. Finally, put the okras on top of it all.
Cover and let cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oil clearly separates from the rest.
A bunch of good, boiled potatoes goes fine with this, since they will help to take care of all the flavored oil. Depending on the amount of Cayenne pepper, a more or less sturdy red table wine is your drink.