Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Get to know a technique: roasting (Israeli couscous with roasted veggies)

I think that to be a goodest cooker, you need to know a few techniques, and one of my favorites is roasting.

The benefit of knowing a technique is that, if you have something you want to cook, you have at least one go-to thing you can do without consulting a recipe.

The benefit of roasting, in particular, is that it makes EVERYTHING BETTER. Proof? Roasted garlic. You all know that garlic is awesome just by itself, but can you remember the first time you had roasted garlic? Sweet, warm, creamy... Ah. Well, it does that to other stuff, too.

Here's what to do: if you're using something that doesn't take very long to cook (mushrooms, sweet peas, asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes...), you can pretty much leave it whole and roast it for about 20 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

Anything that's hard or takes a long time to cook (potatoes, sweet potatoes, fennel, leeks, onions, carrots, cauliflower, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips...) can go in at the same temperature (or higher, up to 475 or so) for about 45 minutes.

If you want to know if it's done, there are two tests. First, is it just a little brown? Potatoes look pretty golden-brown when they're done. Peas have brown spots.
Second, can you push a fork into it without throwing your weight behind the thing? Then it's probably good.

The absolute simplest way to dress anything is to coat it in olive oil, then sprinkle it with salt and pepper before it goes in the oven (sea salt is better but table is fine, fresh ground pepper is better but from the shaker is fine).

But here's where roasting gets fun. You can do nearly anything to these veggies. You can put fresh or dried herbs on them, you can add liquids like orange juice, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, flavored oils and more (harissa, sriracha, apricot jam, barbecue sauce, or your creative favorite), or any kind of dried herb or spice (I like smoked paprika on a lot of stuff, and crushed red peppers, too).

I can recommend kale or chard, with the tough stem removed, ripped into pieces (about 2 inches square, I guess), and tossed with a citrus-flavored olive oil, some salt, and red pepper flakes (go easy on the salt, as kale and chard shrink a LOT when cooking).

I like potatoes with almost anything, but especially chopped fresh rosemary (or, bless my trashy heart, Lawry's Seasoned Salt).

Sweet potatoes are absolutely awesome with just some nutmeg, but even better if you make a little sauce of orange juice, nutmeg, salt, pepper and maple syrup or brown sugar. Toss them in the oj mixture, then lay them out in the pan (you'll probably want to spray the pan with cooking spray).

I haven't tried it yet, but I'd be willing to bet those sweet peas would be delightful with some soy sauce drizzled on top, or even a dollop of hoisin in some rice wine vinegar.

Here was tonight's dinner:

Roasted veggies

2 cups sweet peas, the strings removed
9 very small carrots, washed but not peeled
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cup oyster mushrooms, stems trimmed
1 yellow onion, cut into very thick slices
1 bunch asparagus, ends snapped off

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
Coat a big roasting pan in olive oil, then add all ingredients and roll them around so they get coated in the oil. They cook at different times, so keep them separate. Sprinkle the whole mess with salt and pepper to taste.


After 20 minutes, remove the mushrooms, asparagus, and peas (you could take them out at 15 minutes if they were done enough for you -- they'd still have some snap, but might not be as sweet).

After 45 minutes to an hour (check on them), remove the other veggies.


Israeli Couscous

2 cups couscous
4 cups water

1/2 cup oil (your choice, I used flax oil)
1/4 cup lemon juice (or acid of your choice like cider vinegar)
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp dried herbs of your choice (I used zatar seasoning, but italian herb mix would be fine)
1 Tbs mustard (any kind)
salt and pepper to taste

Bring the water to a boil and add the couscous. Turn down heat and cook at a low boil for about five minutes. Taste to test for doneness (they should be just a little toothsome, but not mushy).


Put all the other ingredients in a Mason jar and shake them up. Pour over the couscous, then serve with the veggies. Can be served hot, warm, or cold.




To keep the pans from getting stuff stuck to them, which makes them a pain to wash, either coat them well with olive oil or spray them with cooking spray. If you want your cleanup to consist of wadding up a piece of foil, you can cover the pain in foil. It totally works.

You can do other stuff with these veggies besides just eat them. You can mash them, puree them, make them into soup, serve them on crostini (the onions in particular), put them on a sandwich (roasted sweet potato on a sandwich is like a miracle)... Roasted onions in potato soup would give it a whole different, sweet dimension.

You can control how big the pieces are, so think about what you want. With potatoes, I like about a half-inch dice, because then you get a crunchy outside and a bit of soft inside. If it's a bigger cube, you don't get as much crunch, and if it's a smaller cube, you get ALL crunch. I am particular about my crunchy-to-soft ratio. Broccoli can be in pieces about the size of golf balls or in tiny florets, but the tiny ones are going to get browner. I'd leave them big. I roasted my carrots whole (and by god, they were delicious), but they were very petite, freshly plucked carrots. Big old woody ones would be best sliced into rounds.

Finally, on the salad dressing. Dude. Salad dressing is an awesome thing to be able to make, and you can make it into almost anything you want. Make sure you have about twice as much oil as acid, and from there anything goes. I've added crushed berries, fresh herbs, dried herbs, mustard, crushed ginger... The oil can be nearly anything. I use flax oil because it's supposed to have Omega-3 fatty acids, which, as a veggie, I don't get much of*. But you could use olive oil, sesame oil (for Asian dressings), peanut oil, or even canola oil (I prefer the flavor of olive oil to just about anything else). Same goes for the acid. You can use balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, cider vinegar, rice vinegar (especially good with the sesame oil for the Asian dressing), lemon juice, grapefruit juice... Add the herbs of your choice and be creative. It takes just a couple minutes and homemade salad dressing can be very satisfying (and obviously, you can use it on grain salads, lettuce, or pasta).

*Some people who call themselves vegetarian eat fish, which is a good source of Omega-3s, but I don't. So there you go. Flax oil doesn't taste wonderful like olive oil does, but it doesn't taste bad, either. I like it in salad dressings because the other flavors overpower it.

In a couple days I'll update with another great roasted recipe -- roasted salsa. I hope you can use something here. If you try anything, for goodness' sake, try the onions. They're unbelievably sweet.

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