Last evening when the setting sun was melting in the horizon, I finished making my ratatouille; my kitchen was filled up with the sweet savory smell of the red bell peppers, the aubergine, and the garlic. An hour before was when it all started, lazily soaking the sun I was going through one of my dear cookbooks “Recipes from a Provencal Kitchen” by Michael Biehn, and my mind got stuck smelling the ratatouille from the book. Well it was not a logical cause n effect situation as you might think because I did make the ratatouille after reading it, the story is, prior to that evening while I was at the market my eyes met a young slender courgette and 1 sensational red bell pepper and 1 friendly yellow bell pepper and my mind uttered “Ratatouille! Ratatouille!” So how come I just walk away from such a scene but not end up carrying them home! I did.
Do you remember the film called “Ratatouille” by the studio of Pixar? What a beautiful and brilliant film! I can almost imagine when they decided to make that film, the animation director Brad Bird n Jan Pinkava might have inspired all the artists by saying perhaps…”we are going to make a film on cooking and food, I know it is a huge challenge, because the film is going to be animated but then how come we make a great film without a great challenge! So friends we are just not going to make a film on the passion of cooking and food, our film will be the best film ever on cooking and food… it must inspire people to cook and give anyone courage who ever seeks it, so let’s start cooking. ..Bon Appétit!” Now the reality of my imagined part might have been different but it is no further in the spirit of it. My dear reader I hope you have watched that film, if you haven’t, I insist you to watch this film, you will cherish it.
Remy, The rat, the very talented rat who cooked with so much love n passion and his hands were the hands of the human Linguini! Quite something! Now my hands are of my own and I am yet to figure out what kind of rat I am?
While I was going through the recipe in the book I tried to imagine how it will look like and taste like which is not a very easy thing to do. The recipe in the book calls for 2 hours of slow cooking, so I could imagine it will be like some kind of stew of all those lovely veggies and in its texture, it will be mushy and intense in its flavor. The thing is with any recipe , there exists many variations of it e.g. in the film Ratatouille it is done in different way, where the round discs of the veggies are arranged in a concentric circle over a base of tomato sauce, then baked which is visually pleasing. The version however I opted for is the more classic way, homely way and it tastes delicious.
I remember while I was reading it, rerunning it in my mind, there was this breeze outside, playing with the leaves of the trees. My mind was filled up with ideas that I incorporated in my version of ratatouille! So in my version, there is use of cloves, long cumin seeds (“shahi jeera” in India), dry red chili, fresh coriander leaves, coriander power, turmeric and red chili powder and pink rock salt. With all these additions the resulting ratatouille is amazingly fragrant and very yummy! The interesting thing is it tastes even better when cold or the next day, so I literally found myself licking the spoon even eating it from my refrigerator.
Such a wonderful dish where all the vegetables have absorbed and shared the flavor of each other! intensifying in the process of doing so. There is use of little sugar which balances the slightly bitter flavor of the courgettte and the acidity from the tomatoes; it improves the taste of the dish to a great extent. At the very end of cooking I added a little finely chopped garlic into it and no more cooking is needed after that, it is a little touch of garlic at the end. For someone who is a vegetarian, it will be a delightful dish for him and a meat lover would just crave for it with his meat. My mother who is very choosy about what she eats ended up loving this ratatouille, she had with it a soft white bread and I had it with white rice. Now talking of bread I think it will be so wonderful to use this as a spread of a piece of toasted bread with a little drizzle of olive oil or melted butter, it will be sensational I tell you. I wonder why people don’t make ratatouille more often, I hear about it so less, it needs a revival and in my version it is so satisfying. Now after making it I realize I have eaten similar food in traditional Bengali cuisine, where they resemble this in terms of its texture completely, in a very general term in Indian cooking it will called “Mixed veg”, “Mixed Sabzi”, “Ghyat”- where different kinds of veggies come together and slow cooked for a long period of time.
My dear reader as you go through my words, there are many visuals created in your mind and they are now just waiting for you to get up, gather your veggies , chop them up, start the cooking and after an hour it will be right there in front of you. Bon AppétitJ
1 large aubergine ½ red bell pepper
1 courgette ½ yellow bell pepper
1 ½ medium red onion 1 ½-2 very ripe medium tomatoes
4 medium cloves of garlic 1 bay leaf
1 small sprig of thyme 4 sprig of fresh coriander leaves
1 tsp shahi jeera 2 cloves
Pinch of pink rock salt ½ tsp of sugar
½ tsp of red chili powder ¼ tsp of turmeric
½ tsp of coriander powder ½ broken dry red chili
Olive oil or soya bean oil or mustard oil salt to taste
The Recipe above
Begin by chopping the aubergine and the courgette into ½ inch cubes, no need to peel them, just tail them. For the bell peppers cut them in half, remove the stalks, de-seed, Core and cut into square pieces. Peel the ripe tomatoes by pouring over them boiling water and keeping them immersed in that water for 1 min, then plunge in cold water and peel them, remove and discard the seeds if you want to, I kept the seeds in and dice them in cubes. Peel the red onions, chop them up roughly. You will also need 3-4 of unpeeled garlic cloves. Chop the coriander leaves roughly.
In a cast iron pot or in a big pan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil or soya bean oil, I used a mix of mustard oil and soya bean oil; I used mustard oil for its flavor. When the oil is moderately hot, reduce the flame and put the cloves, shahi-jeera, dry red chili (throw away the seeds) and bay leaf and give them 30 seconds, then add the onions, increase the flame to medium, make them go moderately brown, then add the red and yellow bell peppers, the aubergines and let them brown until they are a nice golden color. Now as you add the aubergine you will find they will absorb all the oil from the pot, therefore add 1tbsp of more oil. Add a pinch of sugar now as you are sautéing the aubergine and the bell peppers on a medium heat. Add the courgettes and allow them to brown a little, add another pinch of sugar, then add the tomatoes, the garlic cloves, thyme, and 1 tbsp of chopped coriander leaves. Give them about 5 mins on medium heat, add the rest of the sugar now, mix well, then add 2 pinches of rock salt, then the salt. Stir thoroughly and increase the heat to high until the vegetables reach simmering point, while I was doing it there wasn’t much juice left in the pan to reach simmering point, so I kept them on the move at times so they won’t catch the pan. Reduce the temperature, cover and cook gently for 5 minutes, meantime dissolve the red chili powder, turmeric, coriander powder in 2 tsp of water and add it to the pan, mix well and give it another 10- 15mintues, stir in between so that it doesn’t catch the pan. After that time, remove the lid and continue cooking for 5-10minutes uncovered until all the excess liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally while the mixture reduces, the flavor now has intensified, stir them in between so they don’t catch the pan, if you see brown bits in the pan, that means it is catching a little, there is nothing wrong, spring a tsp of water and the brown bits will melt away. Check for the salt to taste, adjust if necessary , just before putting the flame off, add a finely chopped garlic clove to the vegetables, put off the flame and cover it, give it 5mintues of standing time. Now you are ready to serve and serve it piping hot or it even tastes better when cold, I absolutely enjoy it eating cold.
This ratatouille is great in its flavor; the sweetness from the sugar and bell peppers, the heat from the chili powder, the flavor of the vegetables mixed together makes it an awesome dish to eat. If you are not comfortable with chili, you can reduce it according it to your taste. Dear reader I wish you happy eating.