Friday, April 19, 2013

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Balsamic Glaze



With our continuing flirtation with a vegetarian lifestyle, we are finding that former side dishes are morphing into weekday main courses.  Case in point: Roast Root Vegetable Salad.

It used to be that we might have served some variation of a roasted root vegetable salad as a side dish for a large dinner—as we did so last Thanksgiving.  But such dishes are special enough that we can tweak them slightly, add a different and less elaborate side, and they become a respectable dinner.  This is one of Will’s favorite vegetarian main courses because it combines sweet (roast sweet potato), savory (caramelized onion), nutty (toasted nuts), creamy (crumbled Stilton cheese), and tart (balsamic glaze).  So, sure, it might not be “umami,” but these 5 interesting flavors combined with a side of quinoa make for a yummy and nutritious dinner.

You’re thinking: How would one have the time to roast vegetables in the middle of the week?  Well, I don’t.  On a weekend afternoon when we are home for more than an hour—say, while doing a spot of spring cleaning?—I turn the oven on to 400 degrees and start peeling and chopping.  Then, in go the vegetables to roast for 45 minutes (up to an hour), and then cool to room temperature.  They smell heavenly then, but I pack them up in containers and they stay in the fridge until Monday or Tuesday.  That way, after I get home from teaching, I start on the quinoa, crumble some cheese, toast some nuts, and warm the veggies (oven or microwave).  Everything is ready by the time the quinoa finishes its cooking in 15 minutes.

Roasted Vegetables:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and combine in a jelly-roll pan peeled and (½ to ¾ inch) chopped root vegetables of various kinds. 


I like to revolve the dish around sweet potatoes, and then add—depending on what I have that week—beets, parsnips, and/or carrots.  Then I might include a smaller amount of less sweet root vegetables like turnips, but I would stay away from adding more than just a few pieces of stronger-flavored ones.  Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac have their uses—especially when mashed with lots more potatoes and butter and cream—but they can overwhelm in larger portions.

Also add similarly-sized chunks of red onion.  They caramelize nicely, and they give a nice contrasting taste and texture to the root vegetables.

Then drizzle extra-virgin olive oil, grind salt and pepper, and mix.  Then roast for 45 minutes to an hour (checking every 20 minutes to stir and check).  When roasted, remove from oven and let cool.


Cheese:
Stilton is nice because it’s a little less pungent than other blue-veined cheeses and also has a nice creaminess.  It’s an assertive flavor that stands up nicely to the roasted root vegetables and onion.  Sometimes, I like to tone that down a bit—usually that decision being made for me by what’s actually in my cheese bin—with feta or goat or even just a sharp cheddar cheese.

Whatever cheese you use, just crumble—or cube harder cheeses in ¼ inch pieces—to sprinkle over the top of warmed veggies.

Nuts:
I usually have walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts around, but you can really use any kind of nut you are particularly fond of.  Just coarsely chop and lightly toast either in a small pan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or in a 300 degree oven for 7 minutes.


Balsamic Glaze:
When I asked Will which garnish he absolutely cannot do without for this dish, his reply is prompt: the Balsamic Glaze.  I usually make a batch of it myself and keep it in a small squeeze tube for this purpose.

Serve with quinoa, the grain-like seed that is considered a “superfood” for its high nutritional value, and you’re all set!


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