Living out in the middle of nowhere can prove to be a challenge at times. There are, however, many hidden treasures in my neck of the back woods.
Some of them include things like having students with grandparents who have beautiful vegetable gardens, and little country stores that sell food stuffs in bulk like spelt flour, quinoa, and black rice at crazy cheap prices.
Today’s Meatless Monday dish takes advantage of both of these things that I’m blessed to have as part of my life. Driving around one day, I noticed that two of my students (sisters) were sitting on their front lawn with a sign saying “Fresh Vegetables.” I pulled in, and saw a table full of fresh grape and yellow cherry tomatoes, yellow zucchini, yellow squash, meaty tomatoes and green peppers. I immediately thought “Ratatouille!” and snapped them all up. Not only was I getting some beautifully fresh, locally-grown vegetables, but I was also supporting a couple of my students — one of whom I know will be putting the money she earns from this stand toward our trip to Montreal this coming spring. Win-win!
Well, the grape tomatoes didn’t make it, I’ll admit, they were so sweet and fresh I kind of snacked on them, but the rest was still there. I made a run out to a small local shop run by a local Mennonite family where I knew I’d be able to find a couple of interesting ingredients to add a little protein and extra ‘zing’ to a ratatouille. Lo and behold, there were lentils, and my niece gave me the rest of the bag of black rice she had gotten there a few weeks back.
Fun dinner experiment … GO!
Ratatouille is one of my favorite vegetable dishes out there, and to turn it into a main dish, I added the lentils for some protein to help make it ‘stick.’ I figured the black rice would be a great fiber-packed starch to add to the mix, and thought it would do a great job of making the beautiful colors of the vegetables pop. They did!
I also cooked the lentils separately from the ratatouille so the vegetables wouldn’t become overcooked, as is the tendency, and I added them to the vegetables at the end so they could soak up some of that herb-y goodness. This dish does take some time to make (around 1 hour and 15 minutes), between prep work and cooking. So, it’s really a weekend project, and one that would be great to take on when you have a decent crowd coming over for dinner.
It was not possible for me to stop at one helping of this dish. Hopefully you’ll love it too! Let me know.
Ratatouille With Lentils on Black Rice
Serves eight, with leftovers!
1 medium Italian eggplant, halved then sliced 1/4-inch lengthwise (you may peel it as well, if you’re not a fan of the skin)
2 small zucchini, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick lengthwise(I used a yellow zucchini, but the green variety would work great too)
2 small yellow squash (optional), halved and sliced 1/4-inc thick lengthwise
3 tsp salt (to sprinkle onto the eggplant to leech out bitterness prior to cooking)
2 medium or 1 large green peppers, sliced (you can use whatever color pepper you prefer – use red for extra sweetness and color!)
2 large fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled (method below). I prefer keeping the seeds and juice, but you can get rid of them if you like.
1 medium onion, halved then thinly sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp Italian dry herb mix
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup dry brown lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 cups black rice
4 cups water
1) Rinse and sort the dry brown lentils (make sure to remove any small stones). In a quart-sized pot, combine vegetable broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
2) Rinse and clean black rice. Then, in another quart-sized pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add black rice, reduce heat and cover, let simmer for 35 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Turn heat off and let sit covered for 15 minutes.
3) While the lentils and rice are cooking, prepare to blanch the tomatoes. If you’ve never done this before, here’s how: Boil some water in a medium-sized pot. Prepare a medium bowl by filling with ice-water. Wash the two tomatoes, and cut a plus-sign into the skin of the bottom of the tomatoes and cut out the stem-end from the center of the top of the tomato. Once the water comes to a boil, plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water. Wait 15 seconds, then remove the tomatoes and plunge them into the ice-cold water and leave them there for about another 10 seconds. The skin should peel easily from the tomatoes. If you aren’t a fan of the seeds of the tomato, you can seed them as you cube the tomatoes. Otherwise, just cube the tomatoes and set everything aside in a bowl.
4) Warm 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, peppers, salt, pepper and garlic and cook until they’re soft and onions are transparent. Remove from the pan and place into bowl.
5) Add another 2 Tbsp of olive oil to the bottom of the dutch oven and increase the heat to medium-high. Squeeze excess water from the eggplant and add to the pot. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your pot. Turn the eggplant slices after about 3 minutes. Eggplants should have begun to caramelize but don’t need to be completely cooked. Remove and place into a bowl after the second side has been caramelized. Repeat until all the eggplant has been cooked.
6) Add 2 Tbsp of the oil to the dutch oven, and repeat step 5 with the squash and zucchini.
7) Add all of the vegetables to the dutch oven, including tomatoes, and add herbs and garlic. Gently mix vegetables to distribute herbs and garlic. Bring everything in the pot to a simmer, then lower temperature to continue simmering. Cover pot, stir vegetables occasionally to avoid burning, about 10 to 15 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.
8) When the lentils are tender, drain any remaining liquid and transfer to the dutch oven. Stir to evenly distribute the lentils among the vegetables. Serve over bed of black rice.