The name of this dish is, as always, primarily descriptive, but also gives it that little bit of French flavor I get when I think of eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, leeks, garlic. The basis for this dish were the two eggplant that came in this week's vegetable box. I started out thinking I would make a ratatouille, but neither the vegetable box nor the local grocery store provided the necessary zucchini or any fresh herbs, so I made a slight change of course and opted for a heartier stew with sweet potatoes and cannellini beans as the base. Haricot or flageolet beans would be a bit more authentic, I suppose, but also a bit too petit for this dish.
I finished it off with a little bit of sherry vinegar to give it some zip. I love using vinegar to lift a dish. Like a spritz of lemon or lime, it can transform a dish from ok to oh boy. But proceed with caution: I nearly killed myself and certainly killed dinner by over-dosing on vinegar for a cabbage soup. Go slowly and see how the flavors develop after a few minutes. Additionally, a few small capers could also add some pizzazz.
I did not have any fresh basil, but I had my mother's home-grown and hand-dried basil. This is a great trick for using up extra basil: when your plant really goes to town and you just can't face any more pesto. You simple wash and dry the leaves, then place them on in a single layer a paper town and microwave in 30 second bursts, checking after each one. Herbs are dry when they can be crumbled easily in your fingers.
1 leek, washed thoroughly, halved and cut into 2 inch segments, white and green parts
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant (approx. 2 C.), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 carrot, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 C. vegetable stock (or more if needed)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. sherry vinegar
1 T. small capers (optional)
Saute leeks, carrots, and bell pepper in olive oil until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add tomatoes and vegetable stock, then sweet potatoes and eggplant. Stir in basil. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until sweet potatoes and eggplant are soft. Stir in vinegar and capers if using, cook for another minute, then taste and adjust seasonings.