Saturday, October 4, 2008

Raw Vegetable Stifado

My first waitressing job was at a cozy little pizza joint. A big fat guy with attitude to match turned out really spectacular pies and other simple Italian home cooking, and me and a couple of other skinny young waitresses served this stodgy but delectable fare to a crowd of regulars. Though the pizzas were the stuff of legend, I would usually hold out for a bowl of spezzatino - Italian stew slow cooked with tender chunks of beef, carrots, potatoes, onions, red wine and herbs.

My boss also happened to be fluent in Greek, I suppose the result of growing up around so many Greek immigrants in the Adelaide CBD. He taught me that the Greek word for stew was stifado, which immediately made sense to me because for years I'd been making and loving a vegetarian stifado from one of my beloved Moosewood cookbooks.

In this raw version, I've reworked both concepts into a celebration both of vegetables and of slow food. The key is to let the ingredients marinate overnight so they soften, then soak them in the sauce the next day to concentrate the flavors. I love the dill in this recipe and I think that's what makes it taste really "Greek" to me. Share it for dinner with friends or family, and think of many generations of peasants past gathering over a steaming pot of stew. Okay, so yours won't be steaming, but it will be bursting with life and flavor. Opa!

Raw Stifado

1 small eggplant, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 small zucchini, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 small red capsicum/bell pepper, cut into ½ inch pieces
5 swiss brown mushrooms, cut in half and thinly sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
handful of kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ red onion, cut into fine dice
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 tsp Himalayan salt

1 cup sundried tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper

Two handfuls of baby spinach

In a large container with a lid, combine eggplant, zucchini, red capsicum, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, olives, garlic, and red onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Pour over vegetables and toss to coat. Let the vegetables marinate at room temperature overnight (or for at least 6 hours).

Combine sundried tomatoes, half of the soaking liquid, olive oil, oregano and dill in a food processor. Process until you achieve a thick sauce, adding more soaking liquid if necessary.

Toss the sauce with the marinated vegetables. Add the spinach and mix through. Add a good grind of black pepper and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Let the stew marinate at room temperature for several more hours for the flavors to marry.

This stew is really lovely topped with some raw milk feta cheese, if you can get it. If you don’t eat dairy but like the taste of feta, try out this spectacular and nutritious recipe for sunflower feta. Or, eat the stew on its own; also delicious!

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