Slow Food Saffron Stew

When it came to eggplant, the garden just kept giving and giving and giving. So this past Saturday, it was time to make stew. Slow Food? Yup. You’ll be at it all afternoon. But that’s a good thing when you want to develop the sweetness in your ingredients and make a dish truly memorable. This stew is just that; contrasting subtly warm and perfumed spices with chunky rustic vegetable cuts and a combination of cooking styles to keep your eye and mouth ever-interested. So don’t let the long cooking times daunt you: if the farmer’s market is overflowing with onions and tomatoes and eggplants of all kinds – kick back with a beer (or some sparkling water) and some mellow music and get the cooking on.

We served the stew over BBQ roast potatoes alongside some simple mung beans as part of an informal supper. It would also present well over couscous with a chickpea dish. At room temperature, serve this sweet and rich mixture as part of a mezze spread or stuffed into a falafel sandwich. It even works as a pasta sauce!

Yield: 6-8 servings

What you need:

  • 4 large onions, sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/4 of a preserved lemon, flesh removed, washed & rind sliced fine
  • a 1” long piece of ginger, peeled and very finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon virgin sesame oil
  • 2-1/2 cups unsalted vegetable stock, divided
  • 2-1/2 lb eggplant, cut into 3” long wedges
  • 2 tablespoons toatsted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2-1/2 lb paste tomatoes, peeled and chopped, 4 packed cups
  • 3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup aka (red) miso

What you do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F and line 2 large pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, place the onions, bay, saffron, preserved lemon, sliced ginger, teaspoon of virgin sesame oil and 2 cups of the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to keep things at a simmer.
  3. Simmer the onion mixture uncovered, slowly, until the stock is completely gone and the onions are buttery and sputtering in the oil, about 1-1/2 hours. Yes. You read right. 1-1/2 hours. That slow a simmer. And it’s worth every minute so take your time.
  4. While the onions are simmering, toss the wedges of eggplant with the 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil. Add the salt and toss again. Divide the eggplant between the two parchment-lined pans.
  5. Roast the eggplant until cooked and golden to taste, flipping the pieces and rotating the pans about half way through. This will probably take 35 to 50 minutes depending on how roasty you want the veggies (fruit actually…) and the size of your wedges.
  6. When the eggplant are done, set aside and turn off the oven.
  7. When the onions are ready, add the chopped tomatoes. Bring up to a boil and then back down to a simmer again.
  8. Simmer, covered this time, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked and a nice thick sauce has formed around the onions.
  9. While the tomatoes are simmering with the onions, dilute 3 tablespoons of the miso in the remaining 1/2 cup of vegetable stock.
  10. When the tomatoes are ready, add the roasted eggplant to the pot.
  11. Cover again and simmer another 5 to 10 minutes, to heat the eggplant through and soften it in the sauce. Taste. Blow on your spoonful so you don’t burn your tongue. If you think you’ll need extra miso, then dilute an additional tablespoon or so into the stock mixture you prepared.
  12. Remove the stew from heat. When the bubbling subsides, add the diluted miso. Stir to mix, cover the pot, and let sit 10 minutes or so. Stir one last time and then serve.

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