Really? Veggies in the oven? It is supposed to be healthy and good for us and bla bla bla but, come on, it is just vegetables. How good could it be? I hear you. You are just like me a few years ago thinking that a meal is filling, tasteful and overall satisfying only if you eat burger, pasta, pizza or a combo of the above. Allow me to prove you wrong and show you how veggies with a strange name like briam can be a delicious revenge to all high processed and less nutritious food.
To begin with, note down these key words: seasonal, fresh ingredients. This dish is the epitome of summer vegetable garden because this time of the year summer vegetables taste so much better especially when you purchase them literally a few days or hours after they have been picked.Now that you’ve purchased everything, cook it the Mediterranean way. Use herbs, spices, good quality olive oil and follow the cooking practices for a flawless, yummy veggie plate. Veggies don’t have to taste like they came straight from the ground but they can taste heavenly as long as you are familiar with some basic techniques. For example, briam belongs to a very important part of the Mediterranean Greek diet called ladera. The cooking concept is so simple but it is more than enough to make your taste buds shout out in celebration: humble vegetables roasted in olive oil and tomato along with herbs. That’s it and, believe me, it is more than enough.
You can go one step ahead and cook it your way. Even though the traditional version includes more or less specific vegetables, feel free to exclude some of them or add others. However I advise you to start with the most authentic version and then see where it goes from there.
Either it is you, a friend or members of your family, people find it quite difficult to eat vegetables. In fact some of them despise each and every bite of them. These are the most difficult cases, so you have to approach them in a clever and crafty way (evil grin). Cook a “veggie hater friendly version”. As a mother of two picky eater boys and a wife of meat lover hubby, I face the challenge of “eat your veggies, boys” (hubby included) with creativity. I usually add ingredients they like to the plate they hate. I mean, I get it! A plate of mixed vegetables can seem really bland but maybe a light yogurt-feta homemade dressing would give them the motivation to taste some, just to see for themselves the deliciousness of that bite. Nailed it! This is one of their favorite veggies plate. No more “Veggies? Yuck!” complaints, no more left over food. You should definitely give it a try.
Another name for that plate is Tourlou (Türlü) which is a Turkish word meaning “something of diverse kinds” describing the variety of vegetables in that recipe along with the world briam or briami. If you go west, you will find a similar dish named caponata in south Italy and the famous ratatouille in south France. You see, the countries of the Mediterranean region share many common elements and their traditional food is a vivid proof. The unique location of the Mediterranean Basin as the nodal point between 3 continents allowed traders to exchange their food goods and conquerors to import new ingredients and food practices. These cultural interactions throughout the history transformed the regional culinary map and resulted in one of the most versatile, tasteful collection of cuisines.
No more history lesson… Let’s get down to business and cook.
I avoid sautéing and I usually don’t like frying healthy and fresh ingredients. But for that recipe I have to admit that sautéing adds more flavor. Therefore I do something in between (evil grin #2). I cut my veggies into whatever form I like and I heat them up with olive oil in my cast iron pan. Just heating, neither sautéing nor frying. This is an excellent technique in order to release the natural sweetness, caramelize their sugars and intensify flavors.Before heating the veggies up.After the heating cooking technique.
You may cut your veggies into cubes or slices but whatever your cutting technique is, the vegetables that melt faster (zucchini, onion, leek, eggplant, pepper) should be cut in larger pieces, otherwise you may end up with mashed vegetables. In contrast, we cut potatoes and carrots into thin slices or smaller cubes in order to have enough time to melt. I think this is the secret behind the success of that recipe. You want to taste all the ingredients and to take sweet, crunchy bites from each one of them. Right?
Don’t add water. Not a drop! Vegetables provide the most water of all foods, often being over 90% water by weight. So imagine how your veggies will look like if you add more water. Yep, you got a nice veggie soup, which I like, but this is a roasted vegetable recipe. Instead of water, the only liquids I recommend is no more than ½ cup of white dry wine and olive oil. The wine will be evaporated during the cooking process and it will give extra sweetness and add more flavor to your plate. If you don’t want to use alcohol, add lemon juice instead.
You may use any kind of baking pan as long as it isn’t too shallow and it is large/wide enough to welcome a thin layer of vegetable. Because on one hand veggies need their space to be heavenly roasted and on the other you save more cooking time.The authentic briam asks for crumbles of feta cheese all over the baking pan. My clan likes the yogurt-feta dressing and I find this sour-sweet combination extremely delightful. You may skip dairy though and make it vegan as well.Enjoy your briam with a glass of white wine!
- 3 medium-sized zucchinis
- 1 large onion
- 2 large leeks
- 2 red peppers
- 1 yellow
- 2 large eggplants (Santorini’s white eggplants)
- 2 large carrots
- 1 large or 2 medium-sized potatoes
- 4 cloves garlic (optional but recommended)
- 3 fresh tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2cup olive oil
- ½ cup white dry wine (or lemon juice)
- 1 chili pepper (optional)
- ½ cup parsley (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- Yogurt-feta dressing (optional)
- 1 cup (300g) Greek yogurt
- 1 cup (300g) crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 – 1/2cup milk
- 1 egg
- Thyme & pepper
- Preheat oven to 180* C (350* F).
- Chop or slice the vegetables accordingly. Zucchinis, onion, leeks, eggplants, peppers in larger cubes or slices than the rest of them.
- In a large frying pan over medium-low heat pour olive oil and add vegetables gradually: onion, leek, garlic. Remember only to heat them and not to sauté or fry. Stir lightly. Add salt and pepper and the rest of vegetables: potatoes, carrots, peppers, zucchinis, eggplants, tomatoes. Stir lightly and add some more salt. Add honey, balsamic vinegar, wine, chili pepper and parsley (optional), oregano, thyme. If you like pour more olive oil. Stir lightly and heat them for 10 minutes.
- Transfer veggies to a baking pan and bake for 1 hour. Check your veggies and taste potatoes. If they are tender you are good to go. If not give another 15 minutes or so. Baking time depends on veggies thickness and cutting style meaning from min 1 – 2 hours max until soft and golden brown.
- Meanwhile, prepare the yogurt-feta dressing. Whisk yogurt, crumbled feta, milk, egg in a bowl and pour over vegetables. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, until golden.