If stewing brings to mind chunks of meat simmering slowly in flavorful liquid, remember some of the best stews are meatless dishes like ratatouille as well as other European dishes.

As with meat stews, moist cooking helps meld the flavors of the vegetables while they turn tender. While all stews fit the growing popularity of cook-on-their-own dishes, most meatless versions cook in far less time than those made with meat.

Success in making vegetable stews relies on putting together harmonious combinations, and cooking just until the vegetables are tender but still able to hold their shape.

Since vegetables can start to fall apart quickly once they are tender, when making ratatouille, I often undercook it slightly, then let it reach perfection as it reheats for the trip to the table.

Like other stews, meatless versions improve in flavor when allowed to sit, overnight if possible, before serving. They gain even more flavor each time they are reheated, as this concentrates their juices even more.

For a good vegetable stew, select ingredients that cook in about the same amount of time, taste good together and have eye-pleasing color.

For example, I combine sliced sweet potatoes, chunky cauliflower florets and diced red bell pepper to make tagine, the Moroccan stew flavored with cinnamon, cumin and other spices.

If you want to include quicker cooking vegetables, add them at a later point, so they are not done before those that take more time.

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More from our magazine:  Chicken Ratatouille

Once you find a vegetable stew combination you like and work out the cooking time and the amount of liquid to use, you can depend on old reliable without risking boredom by using a few different types of seasoning. Instead of the usual basil or thyme for a French accent, I will use oregano and mint for a Greek touch, or a combination of cinnamon, ground ginger and paprika, to give it a North African flavor, as with this version of ratatouille.

Spiced Ratatouille

Makes 6 servings.

  • 2 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 medium zucchini, 3/4 lb., cut in 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 small eggplant, 3/4 lb., cut in 1-inch cubes*
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. In a deep, medium skillet over medium heat, toast paprika, cinnamon, and ginger until fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring constantly with wooden spoon. Take care they do not burn. Add squash, eggplant, peppers, onions and garlic. Pour in 3/4 cup water. Add lemon juice. Cover, and bring liquid to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add basil. Season ratatouille to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until eggplant is very soft and stew is thick, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook partially covered if stew is swimming in liquid. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. This vegetable stew keeps, tightly covered in refrigerator, four to five days.

    *Eggplant may be used with or without peel. I cut away and discard outermost parts that are nearly all peel, leaving about half the eggplant with peel on it.

Nutritional Info Per Serving:
46 calories
0 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat)
10 g. carbohydrate
3 g. protein
3 g. dietary fiber
5 mg. sodium


AICR