I don’t know about you, but this is the week when my Christmas shopping always begins in earnest. So, for the second year in a row, I’m bringing you three book reviews to help you cross a few names off your list.
It’s only been in the last couple of decades that North Americans have rescued vegetables from their role as either abstemious “rabbit food” or underloved sidekick. Even today, many restaurants use vegetables more as a garnish than a true part of the meal on the plate. As much as I love a good steak, I’ve always craved more than a tiny pile of over-steamed carrots to accompany them. I want vegetables to receive the same care and attention, and creativity, that is brought to the proteins and starches in my meal.
At home, there are plenty of great cookbooks that celebrate proteins, side dishes, and desserts, but until recently, scant attention has been paid to vegetables. Yotam Ottolenghi, along with writers like Deborah Madison and Barbara Kafka, has changed all that.
I’ve been a fan of Ottolenghi since I discovered his Guardian column on vegetarian cooking a number of years ago. Not only did he make vegetables the centre of attention in his dishes, but he used them as a canvas for many of the herbs and spices that were just coming to the attention of British, Australasian, and North American eaters. Middle Eastern flavours like za’atar and harissa were showing up with the proteins on restaurant menus. Ottolenghi’s column, then his cookbook Plenty, sent vegetarians and vegetable-lovers to the spice rack, too.
When I found out he was coming out with a sequel to Plenty, I was excited. My copy has seen a lot of use and I was ready for more recipes. Unlike Plenty, which is organized by vegetable type, Plenty More‘s chapters cover techniques, from tossing to roasting to baking. It’s an evolution from exploring vegetables to becoming so comfortable with them that experimentation begins.
When I got my copy of Plenty More, I took the Roasting chapter for a spin, first thing. In the cold damp of a Vancouver winter, roasted meals warm the kitchen and the belly. I started with Squash with Cardamom and Nigella Seeds, which I served with a Moroccan tagine. Then, I tried the recipe I’m sharing with you today.
One of the reasons I think people believe vegetables are boring is because we’re afraid to work with them as vigourously as we do a piece of meat. Even roasted vegetables can be a bit wan if you don’t allow them to brown and caramelize. That’s one lesson Plenty More brings home. Both the recipes I tried allow the dish to develop the smoky, jammy flavours that come only when you roast something fearlessly.
This recipe gives you perfectly tender carrots with a crust of caramelized honey and accompanies it with a fresh yogurt and tahini sauce that provides a wonderful counterpoint to the dish.
Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt
scant 3 tbsp/60 g honey
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
3 thyme sprigs
12 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 by 2 1/2-inch/2 by 6-cm batons (3 lb/1.3 kg)
1 1/2 tbsp cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
salt and black pepper
Tahini yogurt sauce
scant 3 tbsp/40 g tahini paste
2/3 cup/130 g Greek yogurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C.
Place all the ingredients for the tahini sauce in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk together and set aside.
Place the honey, oil, coriander and cumin seeds, and thyme in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the carrots and mix well until coated, then spread them out on a large baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring gently once or twice, until cooked through and glazed.
Transfer the carrots to a large serving platter or individual plates. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a spoonful of sauce on top, scattered with the cilantro.
Once you’ve tried this dish, I suspect that you’ll be buying a copy for yourself as well as the person you were shopping for. I love that I can adapt most of these recipes easily for my vegan partner, while making the meat-eaters at my table forget that they’re being served a vegetarian meal.
Gift Giver’s Guide: For the vegetable lover, the curious cook, the flavour-seeker, and anyone who needs convincing that vegetables can be the star of the show.
Come back Tuesday for a review of a book that will fill your holiday sweets table with goodness.