It’s 9pm and I’ve just walked back into my house after a beautiful evening walk round the hood. Gardens this time of year are off the hook. It’s been hot, but not for long enough yet for things to have dried out. The star jasmine has just about done its dash, the blooms are starting to turn and the scent is at its peak of ripeness. Hydrangeas are everywhere, in their wonderfully tonal shades. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a whiff of the fabulously evocative Queen of the Night somewhere out there. Early summer feels glorious – in the kitchen as well as out in the garden.
I’ve always proclaimed myself a late summer kinda girl; eggplants, beefsteak tomatoes, lushly ripe peaches and sweetcorn are some of my favourite foods. But this year, the early summer bounty has me super inspired. Tomatoes are already full-flavoured, eggplant (obviously hothouse-grown, but still) are glossy with no trace of unripe bitterness, and colourful peppers, too are already getting cheap in the shops.
At the weekend I visited La Cigale market for the first time in a while, and picked up some pretty almost lime-hued beans from Kumeu grower Drago, and a couple of perfect eggplants from a sprayfree stall. Tonight I needed to use them up so made this simple one-dish recipe that I will definitely be making regularly. The tartness of tamarind goes so well with perfectly cooked, silky eggplant – the coconut sugar balancing the sour and the hint of chilli adding excitement.
I call this braising, but it’s not in the true sense, as braising involves browning ingredients first. This isn’t necessary here – simply adding liquid and roasting creates a flavourful and perfectly tender nutritious dish of vegetables.
Serve this ratatouille-style, lukewarm with a crusty baguette, or hot on a bed of herbed quinoa or rice. If you’re vegetarian, you can omit the fish sauce and add a little mushroom sauce or good vegetable or mushroom stock.
In a roasting dish, combine a couple of handfuls trimmed beans, an eggplant and a red, orange or yellow pepper sliced into strips, a large, sliced onion, one beetroot cut into small cubes and 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped.
In a small bowl combine 2 Tbsp strained tamarind pulp (I buy this already prepared, for ease), 1 heaped Tbsp coconut sugar or raw, dark cane sugar, 1 Tbsp fish sauce, 1 hot chilli, finely sliced and 2/3 cup water.
Pour this liquid over the vegetables in the roasting dish and bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for around 40 minutes, until beetroot is cooked through. A couple of times during cooking, remove from oven and stir to keep all the vegetables moist. Much of the liquid will evaporate during cooking, leaving you with a deliciously concentrated dressing and perfectly braised, moist vegetables.