Soufico is a signature dish of my sister-in-law, Diane, who learned it from her mother and grandmother, who grew up on the Greek isle of Ikaria.
Like ratatouille or caponata, it’s a summer medley that simmers together the luscious garden vegetables at their peak this time of year — eggplant, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes — that seem to belong in the same pot together. Like most rustic dishes, there’s no one standard recipe for soufico; it will vary from cook to cook. But a few key elements are important.
Use a good olive oil to pan-fry the vegetables and don’t hurry things along. The vegetables should be very soft, almost caramelized, so that their inherent sweetness has time to develop. This dish is best made a day or two ahead and can be stored several days in the refrigerator, so make an extra batch to have on hand. It’s delicious served warm or at room temperature as a side dish, on top of pizza, layered on a sandwich or folded into an omelet. For a light dinner, add chickpeas or chicken and a sprinkling of cheese toward the end of cooking and serve over farro or rice.
The eggplant, in all its shiny, oddly shaped glory, is the anchor ingredient here. Its velvety texture thickens into a lush sauce that makes for a hearty and healthful dish. It’s representative of Greek home cooking, which relies on bold flavors and inexpensive, local ingredients.
This dish tastes best when the eggplant is very fresh. At the market, as you sort through the glorious white, purple, pink, striped and black varieties, look for those that are smooth and shiny, uniform in color and size, with a firm, green stem. Avoid any with wrinkles or soft spots. To test for ripeness, press your finger against the skin. If it leaves an imprint, the eggplant is ripe.
The smaller eggplants tend to be sweeter and less bitter; they have fewer seeds and a thinner skin. Store eggplants unwrapped in the crisper department of the fridge and use within three days. The different varieties of eggplants are interchangeable in this recipe. While many older recipes advise cooks to salt, rinse and drain the eggplant slices before cooking, it seems an unnecessary step when using very fresh, local eggplant.
Think of this recipe for soufico as a mere guideline to a homey, flavorful dish. Vary the herbs depending on what you have on hand and your own tastes, just as home cooks do on those glorious islands off the coast of Greece.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: This is one of many variations on the iconic Greek dish. Add chickpeas or chicken and serve over farro or rice for a main dish; it’s great tossed with pasta and sprinkled with hard cheese, too. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/4 c. olive oil, divided
• 2 white onions, diced
• 4 garlic cloves, smashed
• 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-in. squares
• 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-in. squares
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 medium eggplants, cut into 1-in. squares
• 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-in. squares
• 1 tomato, chopped
• 2 tbsp. fresh chopped oregano
• 2 tbsp. fresh chopped basil
• 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
• 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 1 1/2 c. cooked, drained chickpeas, optional
• Cooked farro or rice
• Greek yogurt for garnish, optional
• Lemon wedges for garnish, optional
In a large, wide deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat, and sauté the onions, garlic and peppers, until soft, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a separate bowl and set aside.
Add a little more of the oil to the skillet, return to the heat, and sauté the eggplant and zucchini, until soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Return the cooked onion mixture to the skillet and add the tomato, oregano and basil and any remaining oil and stir in the stock. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Season with the lemon juice and more salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the chickpeas if using and heat through. Serve over cooked farro or rice, with Greek yogurt and lemon wedges on the side.
Nutrition information per each of 6 servings (without chickpeas):
Calories 185 Fat 10 g Sodium 20 mg
Carbohydrates 24 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 10 g
Protein 3 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 6 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 vegetable, 1 carb, 2 fat.