Yia Yia Vegetables

by Alexa

This is possibly my favorite food of all time.  When I was younger I used to help my grandmother make these vegetables for family parties,  and while a visit to a Greek restaurant has led me to believe that this dish is technically called “briam”, in my family we have always called them “yia yia vegetables” in her honor.  This is definitely a summer dish, and can be adapted to take advantage of different fresh vegetables you have–the “classic” version in my household included zucchini, green beans, eggplant, and potatoes, but summer squash, okra*, and carrots can also make there way in there.  When it all cooks up, it is something like a ratatouille, with the vegetables cooked until they are soft and swimming in this miraculous tomato/olive oil sauce infused with oregano. In true grandmother style, my yia yia never used a recipe, but just added ingredients intuitively and ended up with something awesome.  One day I tried to write down everything she did…here is what that looked like:

 

Now that she is no longer able to cook, I’m glad I have these notes to follow–I’ve transcribed the recipe below and fleshed out the instructions a little and the versions I’ve made in the past few years have turned out very well.  But hers will always be better.

*A digression about okra…As a kid, I was not a fan.  But I was an extremely polite child and would never dream of hurting Yia Yia’s feelings, so I always pretended to like it. My father knew about this predicament and thought it would be hilarious to tell my grandmother that okra was my favorite thing ever.  Being the sweet person she is, she responded to this information by cooking me special okra dishes–there would literally be a mixed vegetable dish for the family, and then a separate all-okra dish for me.  This went on for years.  The good news is that I eventually grew to love okra, and now it makes me feel all nostalgic.

            

Ingredients

  • About 1 1/2 lbs green beans. Wash and trim ends; put them in a bowl of cold water with a little salt
  • 4 zucchinis.  Wash and cut up into medium pieces (1 inch by 2 inches maybe) Soak in cold water.
  • 5 potatoes. Wash peel, chop and soak in water. (I don’t know what this soaking step is for, exactly, but she always did it, so I include it)
  • 2 large eggplants, cubed. Soak in salted water.
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 28 oz can of whole tomatoes in puree
  • olive oil
  • bunch of scallions, cleaned and chopped
  • several cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • dried oregano
  • vegetable bouillon
  • vinegar (red wine or balsamic)
  • salt
  • pepper

Instructions

Put a large pot on the stove over medium heat (you can use 2 medium pots, if you like–it can make stirring easier) Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Put the onions in first, and cook for a few minutes.  Then add the beans and a little bit of water.  Cover and cook for about 10 minutes (if you wanted to add carrots, I would put them in now, too.)

While this is happening, prepare some vegetable bouillon; 3 cubes dissolved in about 3 cups of boiling water

Add all of the vegetables–scallions, potatoes, zucchini, eggplants, and garlic. Add the bouillon and the canned tomatoes and stir well. (I’ve also sometimes added a small can of tomato paste at tgis point for a richer tomato flavor)

Add a couple good glugs of olive oil. Don’t skimp on this–it’s a Greek recipe!  Add a couple splashes of vinegar, and a generous portion of dried oregano, crushing it between your hands to release all the flavor. (Yia Yia: “If Yia Yia no use oregano, not cooking!”)  Season with salt and pepper.

Cook over low heat, uncovered, until it’s done.  This should take about an hour–some of the liquid should cook of, leaving you with a delightful orange sauce, the vegetables should be a bit mushy, and your potatoes should be cooked through but not disintegrating.  At the very end of the cooking process, give it a taste–add a bit more vinegar, salt, pepper, and oregano if you desire.

This is maybe best at room temperature, but is also good warm or even cold from the fridge.  The only real way to eat this is with some good bread, and some cubes of nice feta cheese–you get a little piece of feta with every bite and use the bread to sop up all the sauce…heaven, I tell you.

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One Comment to “Yia Yia Vegetables”

  1. Your dad is hilarious. -groooooooan!-

    Mmmm, thanks for the post — I’m totally going to make this for my vegetarian roommate-to-be!

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