When it comes to food, I’m not a purist. That being said, I have no problems eating canned beans or store bought cookies, as long as they’re vegan and taste good (although, quite frankly, I often cook my beans and bake my cookies). I generally don’t have “prejudices” against canned stuff, and if there are canned produces I use on a regular basis, they are tomato sauce and roasted peppers. They’re vegan, taste good, and although it’s often said there’s nothing as homemade tomato sauce, I’m totally sold to the canned one.
When it comes to recipes, specially traditional and local ones, I’m also not a purist. I do believe moussaka is not the same without meat in it, but I do really enjoy my dairy-free version of the greek classic; the same goes for pizzas and lasagnas, foods that usually call for cheese, and that I most of the times make cheese-less. Actually, both vegans and vegetarians end up, most of the time, tweaking recipes to get them to fit their diets, and that often means to make a traditional dish the unconventional way. This whole process of tweaking recipes fascinates me, as that doesn’t mean they’ll loose their former character just because they’re made a little different by some vegans and vegetarians out there. For me, respecting the identity of a certain local recipe (I’m thinking of portuguese traditional foods by the way), doesn’t mean you have to make it exactly as people did a hundred years ago. Time has passed, dietary needs have changed thanks to our growing knowledge on nutrition and health issues; and I feel it’s by tweaking and experimenting with flavors, textures and so on, that you keep the spirit of traditional foods alive nowadays, more than sticking to the way they’re – traditionally speaking – supposed to be made.
I found myself thinking about all this because of today’s recipe. Ironically, a recipe inspired by a french dish that is already vegan. There is much debate on how to make traditional ratatouille, but I don’t really want to contribute to the discussion. My version of it calls for canned tomato sauce and canned roasted bell peppers, as it saves up some time, being therefore more user-friendly, but if you want to make everything from scratch, just go ahead. Also, by adding far more liquid than it’s usually added on a stew, I make more of a soup, rather than a side dish. This ratatouille soup, alongside with a good slice of toasted wholegrain bread, makes for an excellent comforting meal, perfect for the autumn days to come.
300 grams aubergine
300 grams zucchini
3 medium size tomatos, coarsly chopped
2 roasted bell peppers, coarsly chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ red chili pepper, finely cut
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup plain tomato sauce
½ cup red wine
1 1/2 cups light stock
1 bay leave
salt and pepper to taste
1. Start by preparing the aubergine and zucchini: slice both vegetables into 0,8 cm thick rounds, and then cut each round into 4 equal pieces. Set aside.
2. In a large pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic, chili, dried thyme, oregano and bay leaf, and sautée for 2 minutes. Add the tomatos and roasted bell peppers and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Now, add the stock, red wine, and tomato sauce to the pan, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tomatos start breaking down and you get the consistency of a thick, hearty sauce.
4. Discard the bay leaf. Transfer the pan to your counter or kitchen table, and with the help of an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth.
5. Return the pan back to the stove, add the zucchini and aubergine, and cook, over low-medium heat, for at least 25 minutes, maybe a bit a longer – the point here is to slightly overcook the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve the soup hot or at room temperature – it’s particularly good alongside a slice of wholegrain bread – bearing in mind it will thicken in the hours to follow the end of the preparation.