Ajapsandali - A Georgian Ratatouille
Ratatouille is a dish that many people are familiar with: a French Provencal dish consisting of stewed eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, garlic and herbs. Like plov, there are similar dishes to be found around the world. For example, the Italians have ciambotta, the Spanish have pisto, Greeks have tourlou and the Turks have turlu. Another recipe, perhaps not as familiar to cooks in the West, is the Georgian ajapsandali, which is also a stewed vegetable dish containing eggplant, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, herbs and perhaps potatoes, depending on your family's recipe.
To make this version of ajapsandali, you will need:
- 2 large eggplants (about 2 lbs)
- 3 large onions
- 12 tomatoes (about 2.5 lbs)
- 4 bell peppers, any color
- 50 ml (about 1 2/3 oz) olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- herbs (parsley, cilantro, dill, basil)
- salt and freshly cracked black pepper
First, get a pot of water boiling. You will need to remove the skins from the tomatoes, and the easiest way to do that is to score the tomatoes in an X shape on the bottom and plop them (carefully - I slide them in using a slotted spoon) into boiling water for a few seconds.
Remove the tomatoes with the slotted spoon and place them in a large bowl. Unless you have the less-sensitive hands of a chef, I would recommend letting them cool a bit before sliding the skins off. Once that is done, you can chop them into roughly 1-inch pieces.
Next, remove the seeds from the bell peppers and cut them into pieces about the same size as the other vegetables. Set them aside as well.
Chop the onions and cover them with a paper towel to prevent the fumes from burning your eyes.
Now it's time to start layering the vegetables in a large pot. I had to find the largest pot I have for this recipe, which is a 9-quart/9-liter stockpot. A 7-quart dutch oven might work as well.
First, cover the bottom with a small layer of olive oil. Then add all of the eggplant. Spread the eggplant cubes out evenly and then add the onions on top. Again, spread them out evenly and add the tomatoes. Spread evenly (notice a theme?) and layer the bell peppers on top.
Pour the remaining olive oil over the top of the vegetables and cover with the lid. Do not stir. Simmer on medium-low heat for about one hour, until the eggplant is soft.
Meanwhile, chop the herbs (in copious amounts, of course - probably at least about 1/3 cup of each - and garlic. Once the vegetables are cooked, stir the herbs and garlic in off heat.
Stir the ajapsandali well. You can serve it right away if desired, but it really does benefit from sitting overnight in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld. It can be reheated or served cold. Use it as a side dish, an appetizer, or over rice, potatoes or pasta and topped with feta for a great meatless dinner!