I’ve been cooking and experimenting in the kitchen since I can remember. One of my earliest memories of becoming absolutely obsessed with cooking is the day I fell in love with Rachael Ray after seeing her very first episode of 30 Minute Meals. From then on, I didn’t miss an episode. I remember her making tons of pasta dishes and saucy “stoups” (which is a mixture of a stew and a soup), and watching all of her different variations come together so quickly. This definitely helped to inspire me to experiment with sauces myself. Over the years, my skills have become more diverse and my experiments more varied, but one thing still holds true; thick sauces & stews are my favorite recipes to play around with.
Sauces & stews are particularly good for diet-restriction because it’s easy to make vegan and gluten-free sauces/stews that everyone will enjoy, and then each person can easily customize their own plate to suit their needs. If you have a great sauce recipe (whether it be a tomato based pasta sauce, pesto, chimichurri or salsa), it will make the rest of the dish flavorful and satisfying. Meat eaters can add meat, vegans can add pasta, vegetarian’s can add cheese and gluten-free-ers can use any grain of their choice. But no matter who is eating and what their customizations are, everyone is enjoying essentially the same cuisine.
Customization and diet-restrictions may not be on everyone’s mind, but it’s definitely something I think about on the reg. Firstly, because I’m a vegetarian who is always cooking for meat-eaters. And secondly, because one of my career dreams is to be a private chef and meal delivery specialist catering to specific dietary needs (or another role that focuses on this same concept, that’s tbd). This is where sauces really come in handy. Focus on a tasty sauce that anyone can eat and add accompaniments accordingly to satisfy different diets. It’s a winning formula.
The recipe I made today is for a vegan Ratatouille-style stew, which is overflowing with fresh vegetables like eggplant, red bell pepper and zucchini. The flavor is robust and hearty, but it’s really only vegetables, canned tomatoes and dried herbs in this sauce. Serve as a sauce with pasta or grains (gluten-free or otherwise), then add grilled meat, kalamata olives, fresh herbs and/or Parmesan cheese. Or serve as a stew with crusty bread and a petite salad. If you’ve got some fussy eaters in the house or you’re cooking for a crowd with particularities when it comes to food, make your meals customizable. Trust me when I say, this saucy stew is a great place to start.
Saucy Ratatouille Stew
Serves: 4-6 Start to Finish: 1 hour
2-3 eggplants, 2 lbs approximately
Sea salt, fine grain
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic
1 large onion
2 red bell peppers
2 medium zucchini
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
1.5 teaspoons dried thyme
28 oz can crushed tomatoes (san marzano variety preferred)
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
Grated parmesan for serving, optional (omit for vegan/dairy-free)
For Serving (optional)
“grain” of choice (brown rice, quinoa, pasta, cauliflower rice)
chopped kalamata olives
baby spinach or arugula
Trim eggplant and cut into 1″ thick discs. Lay out onto a towel lined baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides of each disc with sea salt, about a teaspoon. Cover discs with another towel and allow to sit for 15 minutes while you prep the other veggies. The salt draws out the bitter moisture and towels soak it up.
Peel and mince garlic. Peel and dice onion. Remove stem, seeds and ribs from bell peppers. Cut into large bite size pieces. Trim zucchini and cut into large bite size pieces. Cut eggplant discs into large bite size pieces.
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, bell peppers & zucchini to pot with 1 teaspoon salt. Sweat veggies for 5-8 minutes. When veggies have softened and reduced, add eggplant and garlic. Cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add oregano, thyme, canned tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt. Partially cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and stir in basil. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
*you can you a tablespoon of Italian seasoning blend (salt-free) in place of the oregano and thyme
*serve as a stew with crusty bread or serve as a sauce over your favorite grain (pasta, rice, quinoa etc)