One of the things I love about eggplant, peppers and tomatoes is that they span the "cusp" season from late summer into early fall so very well. No matter what the weather has in store for us this time of year, these vegetables can be turned into appropriate and satisfying fare. On a hot, late summer evening they can be roasted or grilled and tossed with a vinaigrette for a bright and refreshing salad. And if the weather is suddenly cool—with a chill in the air—they can be combined to make a substantial and warming gratin, pasta sauce, or stew. One of my favorite recipes in this latter group is Eggplant, Pepper & Chickpea Stew from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
Even though I haven't changed this recipe in any significant way from the original, I wanted to go ahead and share it here because I enjoy it so much and I think others will too. I am always struck by how good it tastes. It is substantial without being rich. Eating it reminds me of why food is sometimes called "sustenance"—I always feel sustained and well fed when I eat this stew. Even if you are not sure about eggplant, you should give this recipe a try. You might find you like eggplant when combined with the concentrated taste of the tomatoes, peppers, garlic and paprika.
Another thing I love about this dish is that, like many of the gratins, pasta sauces and stews made with this late summer triumvirate of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, it freezes well. I always make more than we can eat so that I will have some to put in the freezer. It can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator; but more often than not, I haven't planned ahead and I end up thawing it in a covered saucepan set over very low heat. It's bubbling and hot in about the same amount of time that it takes to make the steamed rice or buttered couscous that I will serve with it. And I have to say, that as enjoyable as this stew is on a cool fall evening, it is even better on a cold and dark winter night, when it is truly a warming ray of summer sunshine on a plate.
Eggplant, Pepper & Chickpea Stew
1 1/2 lbs. eggplant
6 T. olive oil
1 large red onion, diced into 1/2 to 2/3-inch squares
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, diced into 2/3- to 3/4-inch squares
2 t. paprika
2 plump cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 T. tomato paste
5 plum tomatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise and seeded
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
salt & pepper
1 c. chicken or vegetable stock or water
1/4 c. minced flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 2/3-inch thick slabs, then crosswise into 2/3-inch sticks. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat until hazy. Add the eggplant and stir to distribute the oil. Cook—reducing the heat if the eggplant threatens to scorch—turning the pieces every few minutes, until golden, about 10 minutes. If you do not have a large enough pan, do this in 2 batches. Set the eggplant aside.
While the eggplant cooks, heat the remaining 2 T. of oil in a Dutch oven or braiser over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onion is lightly browned around the edges—about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and paprika during the last few minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes more.
Add the eggplant, chickpeas, the stock, a teaspoon of salt (less, if using canned broth) and a few grindings of pepper.
Lower the heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are cooked through and the flavors are blended—adding water if the stew seems dry—about 30 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning. Stir in the parsley if using. Serve with Basmati rice or couscous. Serves 4 to 6.
Note: If quality summer tomatoes are not available, substitute a 14.5 oz. to 16 oz. can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes in heavy purée for the tomatoes and tomato paste.
(Recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison)