Harissa Roasted Root Vegetables with Fried Capers

by Maja Lukic


For years, I associated root vegetables with soups, stocks, stews--things that are simmered and boiled on the stove top for hours until the roots impart both a strong, savory scent and an indelible, complex flavor. Root vegetables are certainly delicious this way--my mom always uses parsnips in her homemade bone broths. But a roasted root is a different creature entirely. In my opinion, roasted, caramelized root vegetables are the ultimate in winter fare--incredibly frugal and satisfying but healthy as well. 

Instead of a standard roast with olive oil/sea salt, (which is a perfectly acceptable and delicious way to go about handling roots), this recipe energizes that basic formula with a sweet and tangy harissa glaze.

I've been a fan of Mina harissa for some time. Harissa, as you probably know, is a Moroccan roasted-red pepper condiment that has become widely available in recent years, owing in large part, I think, to the Ottolenghi mania. The Mina harissa has a beautiful and unique flavor profile. It's tangier than some of the other harissas on the market. (I own about nine different kinds of vinegar at home so I was an instant fan for that reason alone). The texture is also more homogenous (blended?) and looser than, for example, the dense harissa pastes you might purchase in tubes, which tend to be thick and concentrated like tomato paste. (As a bonus, the thinner, saucy texture allows for painterly designs in dishes like soup, for example. What? I play with my food.). When Mina approached me to create a few recipes with their harissa, I was excited to experiment. This is the first of, hopefully, two or three examples of delicious harissa applications. 

For use in recipes, my personal preference is for the mildest version--I have virtually no tolerance for heat and like being able to control the spice--but if you need an extra kick of some sort, try Mina's spicy red or green harissa. I have sampled both and they're fantastic. 

The recipe is pretty straightforward. The root vegetables get a start in the oven while I prepare the glaze and then I continue to roast them until the vegetables are sweet and caramelized. I like to bring the whole thing to a close by highlighting the acerbic side of this harissa. A burst of fresh lemon juice and some fried capers tone down the sweetness of the caramelized, dense roots. At the same time, I understand that capers are not to everyone's taste. If you're not a fan, leave them off. But you should know that fried capers are simply the best--the little wrinkled, crackled flavor explosions add both a briny element to the plate and some interesting crispy texture. That's my argument, but I leave the ultimate decision to you. And if you suspect that a runny egg yolk would work well here, too, you're absolutely correct. More often than not, I like to top this with a poached or soft-boiled egg. 

If I'm not back here before the holidays, I wish you all a warm and safe holiday season and happy 2015! 

Harissa-Roasted Root Vegetables with Fried Capers (v/GF)

Serves 3-4

8 cups of chopped root vegetables (any combination of carrots, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, and sweet potatoes)

3 tbsp avocado oil, divided (or other cooking oil)

1/4 cup Mina mild harissa (see note)

2 tsp maple syrup

juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp capers

fresh lemon juice, parsley, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. 

First, prep the vegetables: peel the parsnips and turnips, and scrub the carrots and sweet potatoes (but only if organic; otherwise, peel). Cut the vegetables on the diagonal into 3/4" slices. The vegetables should be roughly around the same size for even roasting.

Toss the vegetables with 2 tablespoons of avocado oil, some sea salt, and pepper. Spread the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet and place into the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until just soft and cooked through.

While the vegetables are roasting, whisk together the harissa, maple syrup, and lime juice. Toss the vegetables with the harissa mixture, making sure the vegetables are coated evenly. Slide back into the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes or until brown and caramelized. Transfer to a serving dish. 

Drain, rinse, and dry the capers. Heat a tablespoon of avocado oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the capers to the pan and fry for about 30 seconds or until brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel to drain excess oil. 

Top the roasted vegetables with the fried capers, chopped parsley, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve immediately. 

Notes: For a spicier dish, use the spicy variety of harissa or add some cayenne or crushed pepper flakes to the vegetables prior to roasting. 

Disclosure: From time to time, I may recommend products on my blog. All opinions expressed are my own. I will not promote a product I do not like and/or use in my household.


Mustard Roasted Cauliflower

by Maja Lukic


Keep this elegant dish in mind for your holiday table - or any table, really. Because it's pretty awesome.

My natural tendency is to downplay everything -- my standard response is a mixture of aloofness and indifference. And by nature, I am an insane perfectionist. I will shoot and reshoot food photographs. I will write, rewrite, revise, rewrite the revision, revise again, and, if I'm dissatisfied, delete everything and start over. I mean, #selective. It goes without saying that it's very hard for me to be effusive or excited about anything. But this cauliflower thing? This is actually pretty good. 

I love this recipe so much that I "tested" it more times than I needed to to actually get the quantities down. It's indescribably delicious, with a double dose of mustard, warm and pungent vinaigrette, sweet and lightly-pickled shallots, crunchy roasted cauliflower, briny olives, and chewy pistachios. My advice: you can never add too many pistachios to a dish. In fact, disregard the stated quantity and add as many as you like. That's not to even speak of the tiny cauliflower florets that naturally break off and become perfectly crisp in the oven. Those little cauliflower bits are the best part -- they soak up the vinaigrette and become sour and salty. I mean, it's pure lechery. 

All different colors and varieties of cauliflower are now on display at the local markets. Know that if you buy purple, orange or lime green cauliflower, it will retain its beautiful color throughout the cooking process. According to Deborah Madison (my unassailable authority on all vegetable-related matters), the different-colored varieties offer different antioxidants, too. For example, the purple cauliflower produces anthocyanins and the orange heads contain much more vitamin A than the white.

The flavor of this dish consists of three essential elements: spicy and pungent mustard, a sweet vinegar, and a roasted cruciferous vegetable. Beyond that basic formula, you can take the recipe in several different directions. Instead of, or in addition to, cauliflower, try broccoli, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts. For a sweeter dish, leave out the grainy mustard and the green olives. If you don't like pistachios, substitute walnuts or pecans. If you don't like olives, omit them and try capers or nothing at all. If you don't have white balsamic vinegar, try red wine or champagne vinegar. It's a terrifically adaptable recipe. 

Happy roasting. 

Mustard Roasted Cauliflower (v/gf)

Serves 4

1 large head cauliflower

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp wholegrain mustard 

2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

1 large shallot, finely chopped

1/3 cup pistachios, raw and unsalted

1/3 cup green olives, sliced

sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 F degrees.  

Prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together the shallot, Dijon mustard, wholegrain mustard, and white balsamic vinegar. Let the vinaigrette sit for at least 15 minutes and preferably while the cauliflower is roasting. 

Optional move: dry roast the pistachios for 5 to 7 minutes or so in the oven or in a skillet over medium-low heat. (I prefer to eat them raw). 

Cut the cauliflower into medium-sized florets and peel and slice the stem into 1-inch pieces. Spread the cauliflower out evenly on a large baking sheet. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the cauliflower for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring and rotating the pan halfway. 

Whisk the remaining tablespoon of olive oil into the vinaigrette and toss with the cauliflower as soon as it comes out of the oven. (It's important to dress the cauliflower while it is still warm.) Add the pistachios and green olives and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve immediately.

 

Note:  I used two heads of cauliflower for the photos and doubled the vinaigrette -- always an option if you're serving a crowd. If you do not have white balsamic vinegar, substitute red wine or champagne vinegar. For a sweeter dish, omit the wholegrain mustard and the green olives.