A traditional Greek summer dish with two twists. It’s made in the slow cooker with practically no effort, and it’s laced with harissa to give it a bit of a kick! Definitely a keeper, especially when we have more courgettes (zucchini) than we know what to do with.
You may know of briam already, either from summer holidays in Greece, or Greek friends in your corner of the world, or even my own post about how it brings back childhood summer memories. Basically it’s a version of ratatouille. Here, the most commonly used vegetables are courgettes (zucchini), aubergines (eggplant) and potatoes. Many people also use green peppers (or even red nowadays), carrots, and herbs. Briam always has onions, often garlic, and usually tomato (mostly fresh grated, since it’s a summer dish). All this yumminess is tossed in lots of olive oil and slow roasted till soft and caramelized.
My version has been adapted to work in the slow cooker. To begin with, all my attempts had a little something missing. Until the last two experiments. The issues I had were mostly to do with the aubergines and the tomato, so I skipped the first, and turned to paste for some flavour without the watery results of the second. Fresh tomatoes have a very high water content, so they were turning my briam into a bland vegetable soup. You can of course make briam without tomato, that’s allowed, but specifically for the slow cooker I feel the veggies need some rich, tasty redness. The more concentrated the tomato, the more it thickens in the crockpot, so I gave paste a go. It worked brilliantly. If you’re reading from the UK, please note it’s tomato puree I’m on about (it’s called paste in the US).
The other day while I was making a final briam test batch (just to triple check the recipe and measurements), I opened the fridge and realised I was out of tomato paste. Oh the horror! While scanning the shelves (“…but I’m sure I had some somewhere!”) my eye fell on a small jar of harissa. Harissa is a Tunisian paste made of a variety of red peppers, spices, herbs and garlic. It looks very much like tomato paste, but is of course much spicier! It took me all but a second to decide I would try that instead. The Mister doesn’t eat briam, so making it spicy was ok since I would be eating it all myself anyway!
Result? Delicious. Both the tomato paste and the harissa are great options, it just depends on whether you want a more classic approach to a traditional Greek dish, or whether you want to give it an exotic flair. I say, try both ways! It’s a brilliant, healthy, tasty dish, ideal for meatless Mondays or vegetarian and vegan diets. How do you serve it? With lots of fresh bread and lots (and lots) of feta cheese (ok that’s not for vegans). Come to think of it, briam would also make a great side dish. Oh and one last thing… if you live somewhere hot, try your leftovers cold from the fridge the next day!