When I got married, years and years ago (okay, not THAT many years ago!), one of my mother’s friends gave me a recipe book. It’s not a thick book, nor is it a book by anyone I’d heard of before, or since for that matter, but it has a wealth of wonderful, interesting and tasty recipes, and when I’m looking for something a bit different or special, it’s the first place I look. The book is called The Best of Vegetarian Cooking, by Lynn Bedford Hall, and it was first published in Cape Town in 1991. It lives in a prime position on my shelf of cookbooks, and it’s a miracle it’s still in such good shape.
So, naturally, when it came time to preparing a menu for the get together I host to break the fast after Yom Kippur, I reached for this thin but beloved volume. I chose a recipe I’ve done before, and will certainly do again. This Mediterranean Pasta and Vegetable Salad is hearty, filling, tasty and possibly even healthy, and seemed like a perfect addition to my buffet table.
I’ve adapted the recipe slightly for North Americans terminology and vegetables, and as with all similar dishes, the exact nature and ratio of veggies can, and probably should, be flexible and according to individual tastes. Enjoy this one with a hunk of fresh bread. The recipe looks long and bit intimidating, but it’s not. Really. I promise! This salad is vegan, and with the appropriate choice of pasta, gluten-free.
Mediterranean Pasta and Vegetable Salad
- 250g / ½ lb dry fusilli or similar pasta
- ¼ cup combined olive and vegetable oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2-3 leeks, rinsed and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- 500g / 1 lb eggplant, dégorged* and cubed into 1-cm cubes
- ¼ cup each white wine and water
- 3-4 carrots, julienned
- 2 sticks celery, thinly sliced
- 350g / ¾ lb zucchini, thinly sliced
- ½ chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 tomatoes, chopped
- 1/3 cup French dressing, or the following:
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 TBSP red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp white sugar
*Eggplants can be bitter, so you will want to dégorge the eggplant before cooking. Peel and cube it, and then place it in a colander with a teaspoon or so of kosher salt. Mix it up gently, and let sit for half an hour or so, to let the bitter juices be drawn out. You can place a plate on top, with some weight on the plate if you wish. When this is done, give the eggplant cubes a quick rinse to get rid of any remaining juices and salt, and continue cooking as normal.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain.
Heat the oils in a large pot, and when hot, add the onion and leeks and sauté a couple of minutes. Add the garlic, bell pepper and herbs, and continue sautéing until the onions are very soft and you can smell the herbs.
Add the eggplant, wine and water, stir well and cover. Cook gently for about 15 minutes, until the eggplant is cooked.
Toss in the carrots, celery, zucchini, and parsley, as well as salt and pepper to taste, and cook for only a few more minutes, to soften the new veggies. You don’t want them overcooked, only wilted a bit, while still somewhat crunchy.
Now combine the vegetables, pasta and dressing, and let sit for several hours to let the flavours combine. Add the fresh tomato shortly before serving and mix in gently. Adjust the seasonings to taste. I like my salad a but under-seasoned, because I enjoy the taste of the vegetables, but feel free to play around to make it perfect for you. If desired, serve with olives, grated Cheddar or crumbled feta cheese.