(The New York Times) Over the Labor Day weekend, many of you will be squeezing in a last picnic or barbecue before school starts, so this week I’m focusing on vegetarian dishes you can pack in a picnic basket or throw on a grill.
Vegetarians need not suffer with veggie burgers and tofu hot dogs. Pack vegetables in foil packets, ready to throw on the fire, and accompany them with romesco, the pungent Catalan sauce thickened with nuts.
How about potato salad? I make a version that’s just as creamy but lighter, because I use yogurt instead of mayonnaise in the dressing. Or choose something that can be made ahead of time and gets better overnight — like ratatouille, the summer vegetable stew from Provence, or a Mediterranean bean salad.
In addition to the recipes I’m posting this week, browse through the Recipes for Health index and you’re sure to find dozens of others suitable for vegetarian cookouts: summer salad with feta, tuna and bean salad, couscous tabouli and whole-grain salads, to name just a few.
Like many savory stews, this Niçoise classic tastes even better the day after you make it — and it’s great cold as well as hot, which is why I like it for picnics. Make a big pot of it a day or two beforehand, and pack as much as you need. To cut down on oil, I roast the eggplant, instead of frying it in the traditional manner, before combining it with the other vegetables.
1 1/2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound (2 medium) onions, thinly sliced
4 to 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 pound mixed sweet peppers (red, yellow, green), cut into slices about 3/4 inch wide by 1 1/2 inches long
1 1/4 pounds zucchini, sliced about 1/2 inch thick (if very thick, cut in half lengthwise first)
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons slivered or chopped fresh basil, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the cubed eggplant in a large, heavy flameproof casserole. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and salt to taste. Place in the hot oven, and roast uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring from time to time until the eggplant is lightly browned and fragrant. Remove the casserole from the oven, cover tightly and allow the eggplant to steam in the hot casserole while you pan-cook the onions, peppers and zucchini.
2. Heat a tablespoon of the remaining oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. Add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until just about tender, about five minutes. Stir in the peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the peppers have softened and smell fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in half the garlic, and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to the casserole with the eggplant. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet, and add the zucchini. Cook, stirring often, until tender but still bright, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining garlic and mix together for a minute until fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and transfer to the casserole. Add the tomatoes to the casserole along with the bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and more salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything together, and place over medium-low heat. When the vegetables begin to sizzle, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, for 30 to 45 minutes until the mixture is juicy and fragrant and the vegetables are thoroughly tender. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve warm or cold, preferably the next day. Stir in the basil shortly before serving.
Yield: Serves six to eight.
Advance preparation: Ratatouille keeps well in the refrigerator for about five days.
Nutritional information per serving (six servings): 153 calories; 8 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 21 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams dietary fiber; 18 milligrams sodium (does not include salt added during preparation); 4 grams protein
Nutritional information per serving (eight servings): 115 calories; 6 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 16 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams dietary fiber; 13 milligrams sodium (does not include salt added during preparation); 3 grams protein
Martha Rose Shulman can be reached at martha-rose-shulman.com. Her new book, “Recipes for Health” (Rodale), will be published this week.