Ratatouille is a Provencal dish. This dish was likely invented to make use of the summer’s vegetable harvest, where summer squash (zucchini), tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplants have bear fruit and need to be used up. The word Ratatouille is derived from the French word touiller (to mix or stir). Traditionally equal part of each vegetable is cooked separately before being combined and then stewed in olive oil. These ingredients are palatable raw, with the exception of eggplant. Hence in this semi-raw Rawtatouille version, I chose to char-cook the eggplant over direct heat to soften, then incorporate it into the remaining raw vegetables.
Choosing the best ingredients for Rawtatouille
Eggplants. Italian eggplants are the most traditional to use for ratatouille. These eggplant are smaller and thinner than the common globe eggplants. Japanese eggplants, which are long, slender and similar to Italian eggplants, are available in my area so I choose to use these. They have a thin skin, few seeds, mild bitterness, and tender flesh.
Zucchini. Green or yellow zucchini can be used. Choose zucchini that has firm skin and feel heavy for its size. Favour smaller zucchini which are more flavourful, less watery and have less seeds than larger specimens.
Tomatoes. Juicy, ripe tomatoes are paramount to ratatouille, as they contribute the sweet taste and liquid. If ripe tomatoes are not available, I would use cherry tomatoes (which are almost always ripe and sweet). For a refined ratatouille, the tomatoes must be prepared concasse, that is peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped. Otherwise, there will be too many seeds in the final ratatouille.
Bell peppers. An ideal situation would be to use a tri-colour mix of red, yellow, and green, to contribute visual appeal to the final dish as well as a variety of tastes (sweet red and pungent green). If not, any type of pepper will suffice.
Aromatics. The red onion has a sweeter taste than the white one, which in this case goes better with the rest of the vegetables. Since this is a raw dish and we are not cooking the onions, I soak them in cold water for 20 minutes to remove the harsh taste, then add it to the dish. A small dose of garlic harmonises the flavours. Again, because the garlic is not cooked and is highly potent in strength, only a small bit is needed.
Herbs. Because most of the vegetables used in ratatouille are rather “shyly” flavoured, you’ll want to use a good dose of herbs. Since this is a Provençal dish, I think it is more in line to use Herbes de Provence – a blend of herbs that grow wild throughout Provence. Like so many foods produced in France, Herbes de Provence has a quality assurance called Label Rouge, which also specifies its make-up. Officially, it includes 27% each savory, rosemary and oregano, and 19% thyme. Some like to include basil, others bay leaf, and lavender. Italian seasoning, which is heavy on basil and parsley, also works well in this dish.
Finishing touches. A good pinch of salt and vinegar helps brighten things up at the end. If you like a sweet mellow finish, opt for balsamic vinegar; if you like a punchy more acidic finish, opt for sherry vinegar. While not typical of the ratatouille dish, I like adding sliced olives to pump up the rich olive flavour and to help contribute umami.
How to prepare Rawtatouille
In Rawtatouille, only the eggplant is cooked while everything else is simply diced up. I find the best way to cook eggplants is to char-grill them whole over direct heat. The flesh gets wonderfully soft and creamy, with a hint of smokiness at the back. If you like to keep the dish fully raw, you can omit the eggplant, or dice and salt the eggplant to remove the bitter edge.
The cooked eggplant is combined with the remaining vegetables and a good glug of fruity extra virgin olive oil and herbs. At this point, you can wrap the bowl and place it in the dehydrator at 46°C (115°F) for 30-45 minutes to soften and resemble a cooked texture, or you can place it in the refrigerator for 1 hour to let the flavours mingle. That is it! No cook, fresh Rawtatouille!
A fresher version of the summer Provençal dish, with marinated zucchini, tomato, peppers, lightly cooked eggplants, and herbs de Provence.
- 150 g (1 cup) eggplant, cooked and small dice (preferably a Japanese variety or young eggplant)
- 150 g (1 cup) zucchini, peeled and small dice
- 150 g (1 cup) bell peppers, peeled, seeded and small dice (preferably a mix of red, yellow, and green)
- 150 g (1 cup) tomato concasse (juicy ripe tomatoes is key)
- 36 g (1/4 cup) red onion, small dice, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes and drained
- 36 g (1/4 cup) kalamata olives, pitted and sliced (optional)
- 1/2 clove garlic, grated
- 15 g (1 1/2 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
- 5 tbsp fresh French Herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning, or 1 1/2 tbsp dried (a mix of savory, oregano, rosemary, thyme, lavender; DIY recipe follows)
- To taste, Himalayan salt
- To taste, white pepper, freshly ground
- To serve, balsamic vinegar
DIY Herbs de Provence
- 27% dried oregano
- 27% dried rosemary
- 27% dried savory
- 19% dried thyme
- dried lavender (optional, 3%)
Cook the eggplant over the grill or direct flame. Use a pair of tongs to turn the eggplant periodically during cooking until the eggplant is soft on the inside and blackened on the outside. This takes about 10 minutes, depending on the size of your eggplant. Once cooked, wrap the eggplant in a kitchen towel or covered bowl and let it rest until cool enough to handle. This helps soften the eggplant skin and so it will be easy to peel off. Small dice the eggplant.
In a large bowl, combine the diced eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomato concasse, drained red onion, garlic, and olive oil. Gently toss to combine.
At this point, you can wrap the bowl and place it in the dehydrator at 46°C (115°F) for 30-45 minutes to soften and resemble a cooked texture, or you can place it in the refrigerator for 1 hour to let the flavours mingle.
To finish, stir in the Herbs de Provence, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve Rawtatouille with salad greens, or cheesy millet “polenta” (millet cooked in vegetable stock and seasoned with nutritional yeast).