It never fails, I will either have gathered a huge bounty of vegetables from my garden or will have gotten a little crazy purchasing them at the market. That means a glut of things like eggplant, zucchini and other summer squashes, peppers, and tomatoes. Some of them I will cut into chunks and freeze for later use, but really, there is nothing better than using them fresh.
Given the fact that we have much the same kind of climate and growing season as Greece, those same vegetables wind up being gathered in villages and markets across the country during the summers there, too. My mom made many of the meals that she grew up with out of that same kind of bounty. Her father was the one in charge of the summer garden, and meals were made with what was available at the time. Talk about locally grown and farm to table!
In reality, these dishes were originally made to use up the harvest before it went bad. Freezing food for long term storage wasn’t a “thing” until recently, and in Greece it still really isn’t a “thing” even now. Food is bought fresh and used fresh.
Now I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of eggplant, but it has grown on me as I’ve gotten older. My dad has yet to warm up to it. My mom loves it, so I guess I’m just somewhere in between. I have found that the variety makes a big difference, but so does the way it is prepared. In this stew, there are so many complimentary flavors that all have a chance to blend together where that distinct eggplant taste is mellowed.
The best thing about this dish, which is called “briam” (bree-AHM) is that there is really no need to be precise about any of it. You throw together a mix of summer vegetables with a few glugs of olive oil and you’re good. Seriously. Don’t measure. Just make and enjoy.
Greek Vegetable Stew (Briam) Recipe
- Summer squash/zucchini
- Sweet peppers
- Onion and/or shallots
- Tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- Rosemary sprigs or chopped fresh parsley
- Olive oil
- Salt/pepper to taste
Cut all vegetables into small chunks and coarsely chop the garlic and put together into a large bowl. The amount of each vegetable is up to you, but keep in mind that they add up and you might find yourself with more than you meant to make. No worries if you cut too much, you can cook it in batches and put extras into the freezer for later eating. You will want a fair amount of tomatoes as they add the necessary liquid to help soften the remaining produce. For what I made in these pictures, I used two 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and give a healthy drizzle of olive oil. Don’t be shy! It’s all good. Toss all ingredients to mix them thoroughly and then put into an oven proof pot like a Dutch oven or covered casserole dish. If I’m using the rosemary, I then push the sprigs into the vegetables until they are covered. Bake covered at 400o F. Check after one hour, the eggplant should be soft and ready to lose its shape. Continue to bake, as needed, until the eggplant is very soft. You may need another 30 minutes or more.
This dish benefits from time after cooking to allow the flavors to truly blend. I will usually make this the day before and let it sit, covered, until cool. I then reheat and serve. It makes a big difference, so try to be patient! Top with parmesan or crumbled feta cheese, if desired.