I decided to make myself a salad for lunch today. This is seriously strange behaviour because I hardly ever eat salads and I almost never make myself a salad at home. I think I may have done so once before. Just once, a couple of year back. I prefer cooked food: a baked tart, a robust curry, a cheesy quiche, a plate of steaming fried noodles with egg, greens and beans sprouts, a piping hot bowl of spicy, curry laksa. Oh yum.
So why did I make myself a salad today? Hell if I know!
Oh wait! I do know. I was dying to use the two bottles of dressing (well, I use them as dressing) I had just purchased recently: the first, a bottle of pumpkin seed oil which Ii actually didn't buy but received as a gift from a dear friend. The second is a bottle of chilli oil which I brought all the way from Italy where I was on vacation just recently. (I'd eaten a mushroom bruschetta in a restaurant somewhere in Florence that I absolutely loved. The secret ingredient was chilli oil which not only coated the mushrooms but oozed into the bread. It was so, so good that I bought a couple of bottles of chilli oil home).
Technically, this is a cooked salad. The vegetables (and I naturally only chose vegetables I love) are roasted and even the garnishes — tempeh bits and focaccia croutons — have been cooked. I chose carrots, parsnips, beets, eggplant and peppers: all of which transform magically from being "just nice tasting vegetables" to "freaking awesome morsels" once they come out of the oven.
Seriously folks, roasting vegetables completely transforms them. Roasting brings out flavours you don't realise exist in many vegetables. Take cauliflower, for example. Not a terribly tasty vegetable ordinarily. Put it in the oven (with some olive oil, salt and pepper) and it becomes surprisingly delicious — nutty and slightly sweet. Even celery. Ever try roasting celery? You must ... and add it in an egg salad. Oh brother ... it's amazing!
I didn't use cauliflower or celery in my salad but the vegetables I did choose come out extraordinarily well once roasted: the carrots become even sweeter, parsnips tasted out of this word as did the peppers and beets! A sweet symphony of vegetables. Ok, I admit I chose vegetables that would look amazing together on a plate too: a gorgeous mix of autumn colours.
I had a few end-slices of chilli focaccia sitting in the fridge: I'd baked a loaf yesterday to make some sandwiches for a few friends and these were the scraps left over. Not enough to make a sandwich with, these were perfect to make croutons with. I toasted and added them in my salad.
The final touch was the chevril: a mild herb that adds freshness to the dish.
Oh! And a word about the dressing. The pumpkin seed oil is really nutty and rich and delicious. It's been known to go really well with vanilla ice cream (oh, yes!) but it's great on bread, on salads and pasta. The Chilli oil? Oh my. It just adds a nice kick to this otherwise sweetish salad.
Roasted Vegetable Salad With Croutons and Tempeh Bits
1 carrot, cubed
1 parsnip, cubes
1 eggplant, cubed
1 small beet root, cubed
50g tempeh, sliced paper thin
1 cup croutons
1 tbsp pumpkin seed oil
1 tbsp chilli oil
a handful of chevril.
Rub some salt on the eggplant cubes and set aside for 20 mins. Drain the water that oozes out (it will be bitter), rinse the cubes and pat dry.
Toss the carrots, parsnips, eggplant in olive oil and spread them out on a baking tray. Toss the beet root in olive oil separately (you don't want the pink to get on the other vegetables), place them in some foil and place them on the edge of the same tray.
Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the vegetables and bake in a preheated oven (180C) for about 30-40 mins, till soft and caramelised.
Meanwhile, deep fry the tempeh slices till golden. Drain and cool. Break them into bits/crumbs.
Once the vegetables are done, combine them in a bowl, add the croutons and add the pumpkin seed oil and chilli oil and toss. Add the bacon bits and chevril. Voila!