Food & Drink

Meet ratatouille's cousin, the dish that can turn your farmers market bounty into dinner

Georgian Ratatouille (Ajapsandali). MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post. Food styling by The Washington Post’s Bonnie S. Benwick.
Georgian Ratatouille (Ajapsandali). MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post. Food styling by The Washington Post’s Bonnie S. Benwick.

In Georgia, there’s a dish that, quite simply, is a genius answer to summer’s most delicious dilemma: the glut of sun-ripened vegetables. If you’re a home gardener, this may sound all too familiar. One second, you’re checking your plots each day, impatiently waiting to reap the benefits of warm sunshine and diligent watering. The next, you can’t pick fast enough, begging friends and family to help relieve the deluge from your overachieving plants.

Or, you’re like me, and can barely keep your windowsill basil plant alive but are a total farmers market junkie. Sometimes, it takes only one perfectly curated stand - set up by a farmer who clearly knows their audience. Color-coordinated rows of heirloom tomatoes, crates of carefully stacked, glistening peppers and eggplants, aromatic bushels of herbs with dirt still clinging to their roots. By the time I arrive at the register, any self-imposed budget has been thrown straight out the window and right into the compost. I walk away with a tote bag filled to the brim and the overwhelming question of “What am I going to do with all of this?”

That’s when I make ajapsandali (ad-JAP-sahn-DOLL-ee), which to the Caucasus people is what ratatouille is to the French.

Not surprisingly, it hails from a country, situated east of the Black Sea, whose fecund land provides an overabundance of produce the likes of which many of us will never see. Visit in the summer, dine alfresco, and you’ll immediately be hit with the aromas of succulent grilled meat skewers and slowly fried chicken basted in butter and garlic. Amber- and pomegranate-hued wines will send waves of warmth and delight, but what will truly captivate are the vegetables - in their sheer presence, variety of preparations, and, of course, mesmerizing flavors.

I can pen a love letter to each of Georgia’s vegetarian dishes, but none of them inspires a fervor, and stomach growl, like adjapsandali. Time (i.e. patience) and generous glugs of oil help melt down eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, carrots and onions until they’re transformed into an unctuous vegetable confit. The addition of hot pepper turns it fiery, while cilantro, parsley, basil and garlic elevate it into something particularly toothsome.

Some recipes call for throwing potatoes into the mix, while others will have you add chunks of beef or lamb to make it more of a hearty stew. I find that this version - paired with cucumbers to crunch on, juicy tomatoes wedges to slurp, briny squares of feta, and, of course, torn chunks of hearty bread - is perfect as is. See for yourself and give it a try. Next thing you know, maybe you, too, will find yourself plotting next year’s garden or rushing to the farmers market to find yourself again with a very delicious problem.

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