How quirky the British can be at times, especially when it comes to all things Indian. British Indian cuisine is a food genre all to itself, with little relationship to the food of India. The famous Chicken Tikka Masala, for example, is British, not Indian. Vindaloo is a term used for any hot curry in England, not the specific and terrifyingly hot pork curry of Goa on the coast of West India, with its roots in the Portuguese occupation.
And there is another dish – Indian Ratatouille. Yes, my friends, it is a thing. Throw a few spices at a ratatouille and you have Indian Ratatouille. The French food masters must be turning in their graves.
And then Ottolenghi takes this (perhaps somewhat arrogant) British invention and makes it even more Indian – throwing out some of the the traditional vegetables, adding potatoes and okra, beans and tomatoes, and incorporating Bengali spices, tamarind and curry leaves. Has he insulted the French, the Indians and the British? Probably not, because the result is divine – let the food speak for itself, despite its name.
“A great ratatouille is one in which the vegetables interact with each other, but are still discernible from each other. The trick is to cook them just right: not over, not under.”
I cannot bring myself to call this dish Indian Ratatouille, so for me it is Vegetables with Indian Flavours. Panch Phoran is an Indian whole seed mix – it is available at Indian groceries, or you can make it yourself by mixing equal amounts of fenugreek, fennel, black mustard, nigella and cumin.
This Ottolenghi dish is from Plenty More – we are cooking our way through this book. We feel free to substitute ingredients that are not readily available in our local area.
It is Ottolenghi Cooking the Books day on the blog – one of two days per month where we publish the latest recipes we have tried in our project of cooking from Ottolenghi’s books – those we have cooked directly and those we have been inspired by. Currently we are cooking from Plenty More, but not ignoring his other books completely. Note that I often massage the recipes to suit what is available from our garden and pantry. For the original recipes, check his books and his Guardian column.
Similar recipes include Okra with Sambal and Coconut Rice, Caponata and Chargrilled Pumpkin Salad with Labneh and Walnut Salsa.
All of our Indian recipes are here, and our Indian Essentials are here. Or explore our Late Autumn recipes. Browse all of our Our Ottolenghi dishes from Plenty More. We have written about our experiences cooking through this book. Or explore our Late Autumn recipes.
Vegetables with Indian Flavours
100ml ghee, Indian mustard oil, or sunflower oil
2 red onions, peeled and cut into 3cm dice
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 3cm dice
0.5 butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3cm dice
1 aubergine, cut into 3cm dice
1 red pepper, cut into 3cm dice
1.5 Tblspn panch phoran
0.25 tspn ground turmeric
5 cardamom pods
2 courgettes, cut into 3cm dice
250g green beans (or okra), trimmed
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 green chillies, finely chopped
10-12 curry leaves
2 tspn jaggery or raw sugar
3 Tblspn tamarind paste
4 Tblspn lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
Chopped coriander leaves, to serve
Heat the oven to 200C. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan, add the onion, potato and squash, and fry on medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the aubergine to the pan, fry for eight minutes, then transfer to the other cooked veg.
Top up the ghee or oil, if necessary – you will need two Tblspn in the pan. Add the panch phoran and allow the mustard seeds in it to pop – be careful that the spices do not burn. Then add the curry leaves (be careful, they will splutter). Finally add the green chillies, red capsicum and remaining spices. Fry on high heat for three minutes, stirring.
Add the courgettes, beans (or okra) and tomatoes, and fry for five minutes on high heat. Return the cooked vegetables to the pan, add the sugar, tamarind and 200ml water, and simmer for five minutes. Season with salt to taste. (Adjust cooking times to the vegetables. If they look as if they have had sufficient cooking, reduce the associated times.)
Spread the mix on a baking tray, sprinkle over the pumpkin seeds and bake for 12 minutes. Serve sprinkled with coriander.
It is great with rice and a side of yoghurt. Or serve with flatbreads, Indian pickle and yoghurt.