The other day someone asked me, "Where are you from?" I often find this question daunting for I never have an answer that can fully explain where do I belong. If belonging is associated with birth, then I belong to India. The question further develops, "Which part of India do you come from?" I'm caught amidst a quandary again. I cannot pin a place on the map of India and say, "that's where I come from." We often tie identities with names, place of birth or ethnicity although none of these alone or in a combination can describe someone's identity. What is identity for that matter? To me, it's the state of being, an essence of who we are, what we believe and dream, and what we do as humans. And, all of these elements evolve within us through the places we live, the people we meet and the stories we hear culminating in what we label as identity.
My identity is a sublime imprecise summation of everywhere I have lived and travelled so far and the people I have met in this journey of life. This undefined belonging to one part of the world has seeped into my food choices and cooking style and helped me expand my culinary horizon. It's a joy to go beyond the food I grew up eating and cherish and enjoy the food of other cultures around the globe. Nevertheless, there are days when I devotedly devour my mundane yet soothing plate of dal chawal (lentils and rice).
Travel is so integral to knowing food beyond our comfort zone, and the next best thing is reading about food of other places and their people. The fact that I often love to recreate the food of places I have never travelled or lived is my penchant to explore food in its vast diversity. As a very beloved little girl, Tara would say, "I'm a citizen of this world." I relate to this emotion at so many levels and the food I cook is a reflection of this sentiment.
This recipe is a celebration of my love for the food of Morocco, a place I have never been able to travel but conscientiously identify with its cuisine. As much as I like to dabble in the complexities of food, I admire its simplicity. The unassuming elements of Moroccan food often draw me to replicate at home, the flavours I have eaten in some of the best Moroccan restaurants. The intriguing play of herbs with spices, olive oil with peppers and carrots and the effortless merger of grains, couscous and legumes enchants me no end. What I typically like about Moroccan salads is that they are a beautiful medley of spices, vegetables, and even meat or legumes sometimes, without flamboyant dressings. Quoting Paula Wolfert's book, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco:
Moroccan salads are not salads in our sense—mixtures of greens, doused with dressings. More like Italian antipasti, they are dishes of spiced or sweetened, cooked or raw vegetables, served at the beginning of a meal to inspire the appetite and refresh the palate. The glories of these salads are their unexpected contrasts: carrots with cumin and hot paprika; zucchini flavored with wild herbs; orange sections with thin slices of artichoke bottoms; stewed lamb's brains with preserved lemons; or—one of the best—eggplant and tomato cooked down to jam, which is utterly delicious on dense Moroccan bread.
What about this salad?
This salad is a combination of warm and cool vegetables—some grilled and some raw—with a simple olive oil and lemon dressing along with hints of herbs and spices.
I charred cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprout in the oven while the asparagus and tempeh seared on a grill pan. The red radish, baby carrots and spinach are raw.
Although I have used multiple cauliflower varieties, you can use just the usual white ones. The farmer's market has been bringing some delightful varieties of cauliflower: purple, green (broccoflower) and yellow, and I was tempted to roast them in the oven. Roasted cauliflowers taste so great. I can almost finish an entire plate on my own! If you're wondering whether colored varieties of cauliflower are natural, then you needn't worry at all. Purple cauliflower has the antioxidant anthocyanin that lends its gorgeous colour, similar to purple cabbage. Yellow cauliflower is basically an overripe white cauliflower. When left exposed to the sun for too long without being picked, the usual cauliflower turns yellow. It actually has more phytonutrients!
You can replace tempeh with your choice of meat or eggs for this salad. Chicken breast and tofu will be a great choices too. And, if you opt to go all-veggie, you won't be disappointed either. If salad is the only meal I am having, I try to add some of protein to it. Feel free to leave it out.
For the vegetables:
1 cup of cauliflower florets
1/2 cup of broccoli florets
3-4 Brussels sprouts
4-5 red radish thinly sliced
5-6 baby carrots or 2 small carrots diagonally cut
10-12 spinach leaves
1/2 cup of tempeh cut in cubes or any other protein of your choice (optional)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp black pepper
salt to taste
For the dressing:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp cumin
pinch of paprika
1-2 clove of garlic finely minced
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro and parsley
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Place the cauliflower and broccoli florets along with the Brussels sprouts on baking tray. Sprinkle some olive oil, salt and pepper, and rub all the veggies together.
Place the tray in the oven and let the veggies roast for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a grill pan on medium heat and then add the asparagus and tempeh. Drizzle some oil, salt and pepper lightly and let them sizzle for about 10 minutes. Shake the pan intermittently. Note: If you don't have a grill pan, you can alternately use a normal frying pan. I would not advise putting the asparagus and tempeh into the oven along with the other veggies. If you do so, take out the asparagus and tempeh out of the tray after 10 minutes to avoid burning them. If you are using chicken breast or tofu, you can place them along with the veggies. Roast at 350° to 375° F in that case.
Prepare the dressing by mixing all the ingredients mentioned in a bowl or a jar. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.
Arrange the spinach leaves, carrots and radish on your serving plate and then add the roasted veggies on top. Pour the dressing over the raw and roasted veggies.
The smokiness of the roasted and grilled vegetables subtly blends with the lemon and spices in the dressing while the raw vegetables and the greens add the crunch. What's not to love? It's perfect to sit back and munch this salad on any day of the week!
If you make this recipe and enjoy it, please leave a comment and I would love to know your thoughts! You can also tag me on Instagram and share pictures of your creations! I'd love to hear from you and see how you enjoy this recipe!