Saturday, November 9, 2013

Roasted Root Vegetables with Quinoa: Faking fall

The weather in LA has been schizophrenic this fall. Right when it seems like we've made it, that I can actually start using the boots that have been collecting dust in the closet since last year, we get slapped with an 80 degree day that demands to be enjoyed in sandals.

It shouldn't surprise me so - I've lived nearly my entire life in Southern California except for the four years I spent shivering in Chicago during college, and yet somehow every November I seem to forget that we don't actually get a fall. At least not a discernible fall in the way that one experiences in Chicago when the change in season comes dramatically and decisively before September has even had time to make its official exit. The air chills and crisps in a way that is barely possible in Los Angeles even on its coldest days.

While I, like most Angelenos, inevitably bemoan the loss of summer and squawk about how cold it is the second the temperature dips below 65, I miss that feeling. The stampede of cold air nearly bursting my lungs, reddening my cheeks and requiring an aggressively wrapped scarf wound round my neck like ivy.

The contrast in autumnal experiences has been even more perceptible to me this year for some reason. Likely because I've been searching for it - the crunchy fallen leaves that I can squash underneath my booted feet, the comforting shield of a wool sweater, and the end of tomato season once and for all.

So as the 80 degree temperatures rage on outside my apartment window, I've been faking fall in the only way I really know how - by drinking tea from a seasonally inappropriate mug and cranking up my oven to a temperature that is regretfully high for a one bedroom abode. Even with sweat beading at my temples, I press on, roasting roots until they shrivel and caramelize into unrecognizable forms of crisp-edged vegetable candy. I toss them with a bracing aged balsamic vinegar and spoon their collapsing corpses over a bowl of steaming quinoa. And then, finally, thankfully, I find it.

Fall in food form.

At least until I can squawk about it being 64 degrees out.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Quinoa
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

Notes: This recipe can be as simple as just the vegetables themselves, served as an accompaniment to roast chicken (fall's other favorite food), or as complex as you see here. I often find myself subtracting the feta and pistachios to keep it a touch lighter, but the mint has become a fairly essential addition - the punctuation mark, if you will. Enjoy it with a red wine that will stand up to the aggressive bite of the vinegar, and then cozy up on the couch with a cup of tea in a seasonally inappropriate mug.

1-2 beets (depending on size), peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch chunks
3 carrots, scrubbed, but not peeled, and sliced into 1/2-inch thick slivers
8 Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed, and sliced into halves (omitted in the version you see pictured)
2 shallots, sliced into rings
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chickpeas
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
Handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons pistachios
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large cast iron skillet, toss beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and shallots with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast, stirring occasionally to ensure even browning/caramelizing, for 35-40 minutes or until vegetables are deeply colored and crispy around the edges. Five minutes before removing from the oven, stir in the chickpeas to heat through. Remove from the oven and pour the balsamic vinegar over the hot vegetables, stirring to release any caramelized bits of vegetable stuck to the bottom of the pan.

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the quinoa. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat, then add the rinsed quinoa kernels to the dry pan. Toast, shaking the pan frequently so the kernels don't burn, until lightly browned on all sides. (Approximately 5-7 minutes.)  Turn off the heat.  Bring a cup of salted water to a boil, then add the toasted quinoa. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork and set aside.

To serve, spoon quinoa into bowls and scatter the vegetable-mix over the top.  Sprinkle with the fresh mint, pistachios and feta. Toss together into hot mess of fall flavors.


Gastronomer said...

I did the same thing last week -- faking fall. I made a "Apple Cider Doughnut Cake" and then I stuffed a pumpkin with "everything good" a la Dorie Greenspan. It was glorious!


SouthBayGuy said...

How would couscous work if I didn't have quinoa?