This recipe is a celebration of autumn, of festivities and traditions. Since I am always sailing the ship of nostalgia, trying to look back and finding some fine line that connects me to the past, the Ratatouille always reminds me of one comforting recipe of home.
Chorchori or even Labra are homey, and very common vegetarian sides of a Bengali home. They are a medley of often seasonal vegetables, cooked all together with a hint of spice (usually Panch Phoron) and may be some herbs and greens.
The beauty of both of these recipes from the two ends of the world is the communication of each ingredient with the other. Each of them retain their own individuality and yet calmly unify and compliment each each other for a final burst of flavor. There are not many rules to make or to break; any vegetable or a combination of vegetables may be used. It is probably one of the most adaptable ways to cook vegetables. Fresh vegetables are good, but refrigerator cleaning kind would work too.
While the French celebrate their vegetables in a Ratatouille - The Provencal Mixed Vegetable, the Bengalis delight in their lightly spiced mishmash of seasonal vegetables, which is usually served with steaming hot white rice or Khichuri.
With the turn of the season from the blazing heat to the soothing crisp of the fall, the inside and the outside are adorned with the yellow, red and orange. The fall colors are not that dramatic in our parts of Texas, but the fall vegetables are bountiful. I rejoice at the sight of the pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apples and the butternut squash. During the right season, pumpkin and/or sweet potato are added to the typical Bengali recipe. They add a beautiful hint of sweet to the dish, balanced by the heat of the dried chili pepper it is tempered with. You can take a look at Sharmila’s Chorchori with Pumpkin to see how a traditional Bengali recipe might look. When there are no sweet vegetables available, a tiny bit of sugar imparts the required sweetness.
This recipe was for Divya’s magazine. Do hop over the leaf through the Fall/Winter edition of the spectacular Divya Yadava Magazine she has created. She has compiled delicious recipes, which are healthy and a lot of them are gluten free.
On another note, there is a little bit about the author of eCurry featured in the magazine – You can read the interview here.
When Divya asked me to contribute to her beautiful magazine, she requested a dish to highlight the season of autumn, as well as our very important festival – Diwali. I could think only of humble Diwali prasad: Khichuri served with a lot of fried vegetables and a sides, among which there used to be a medley of seasonal vegetables.
So here is a dish unifying the flavors and concepts from around the world – A Fall Ratatouille with Paneer and spiced up with Harissa.
Fall Ratatouille with Paneer and Harissa
Ingredients: (serves 6 as a side)
- 1 cup paneer, homemade or store bought – cubed/sliced in desired size
- 4-5 tablespoon harissa (or to taste) – divided
- 1 medium – large eggplant (about 2.5 cup, diced in 1 inch cubes)
- 2 medium red onion (about 2 – 2.5 cup) peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 cup butternut squash or any other squash/or pumpkin you want to use, peeled & diced in 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 red pepper, seeds and membrane removed and sliced
- 3 tablespoon dried cranberries, or as much or as little as you want
- 4 large tomatoes, (about 1.5 – 2 pounds) seeded and diced
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoon red crushed pepper flakes (or adjust to taste)
- 2 tablespoons fresh herb of your choice (oregano/thyme/basil or a blend of a few)
- salt to taste
- fresh drizzle of lemon juice, optional
- lightly toasted nuts (walnut, pine nuts etc – Optional)
Here is the Recipe for Homemade Harissa, if you would like to make it at home or or use store bought ready made Harissa.
Cooking the Ratatouille
If you are using store bought paneer, dice/slice them and then drop them in salted hot water (enough to cover the paneer completely). Let it stand for 10 minutes; drain. Coat the paneer cubes with a tablespoon of harissa. Let stand for about 15 minutes.
Place cubed eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow it to stand 30-45 minutes, then rinse well and pat completely dry.
Grill the paneer very briefly, just long enough to have the harissa set in as a coat. Alternatively they may be baked in the oven for about 10 -15 minutes at 350 F. Overcooking will get the paneer tough and chewy.
In a bowl toss the cubed and peeled butternut squash with a 1.5 tablespoon of harissa and allow it to stand for about 15 minutes. Heat the oven to 350 F; lay out the coated cubes in a single layer, drizzle/spray some oil and bake for about 30- 40 minutes or until slightly browned. Alternatively they could be cooked in a skillet too. Set aside.
Put about 3-4 tablespoon oil in large skillet. Add the eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and cook at medium to high heat, while stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until tender and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
In same skillet, add remaining oil. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and when they sizzle add onions saute until it softens, about 7 minutes. Add red peppers and saute, stirring, 7-10 minutes more. Return eggplant and butternut squash to skillet.
Stir in tomatoes, the rest of the harissa paste, and the herbs if you are using. Reduce heat to low and cook covered, until vegetables are tender and the tomatoes start to break down and get mushy. The eggplants might get mushed up and that is okay. They just add to the texture of the dish. If you want it dry with less liquid, uncover and cook at high heat until you have the desired consistency.
Remove from heat. Adjust salt and herbs. Add the grilled paneer and sprinkle cranberries and nuts and toss well. Drizzle lemon juice (if you want) and garnish with herbs. Serve at room temperature as a side or over some grains (any pasta, rice, quinoa, couscous) to make a complete meal out of it.
Alternative way cook:
The vegetables (onion, eggplant etc) do not necessarily be cooked in the skillet. They may be roasted too. Combine salt and pepper and drizzle oil. Bake/roast in the oven until tender. Once done, combine harissa, herbs and tomatoes in a pan; simmer until it thickens. Add the roasted vegetables and cook for a while until everything combines well. Add paneer, nuts and cranberries.
Skip the paneer and use chickpeas (or any beans you want) to make the dish dairy free…
Halloumi may be used instead of paneer.
The vegetables noted above may be changed and anything that you prefer may be used. Same is with the amount and proportion of the vegetables.
Preparation Time: 20-30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Serves: 6 as a side
Related Posts: (More vegetarian Fall recipe that you might like)
- Labra: a festive combination of vegetable and spices
- Saffron and Honey Glazed Root Vegetables
- Vegetables & Lentils with Ground Spices
- Sweet & Spicy Vegetables
- Bandhakopi r Torkaari – Cabbage with Potatoes and Peas
- Curried Butternut Squash with Brown Chickpeas
- Eggplant with Tomato, Garlic and Mint
- Herbed Carrots with Ginger Garlic Butter
- Palak Paneer/Saag Paneer: Spinach with Indian Cheese
- Pan Fried Cauliflower with Yogurt and Soy Sauce