Roast vegetables can make a delicious and healthy side, but in this recipe they are the main event. There are lots of taste surprises held within (goats cheese, olives, capers) which liven up the whole thing, and a delicious dressing to add a little heat.
There are 7 kinds of vegetable in here (more if you get a mixed salad.) Nutrition experts increasingly point out that it isn’t just how much vegetable matter we eat but the range and variety that counts, because of the nutrition value. Mediterranean vegetables like these form part of the Mediterranean diet, which is widely held to be extremely good for health. This 2018 study even found that it may reduce depression.
It may seem odd to stir lettuce leaves through this dish but it works, providing a different texture and some lightness. Every mouthful holds the possibility of a crumb of goats cheese, which is a tangy creamy highlight. The harissa dressing is easy to make and really elevates the whole meal, bringing a spicy acidic warmth to the dish.
This dish brings back fond memories because the first time Russell ever cooked for me this is what he made. That was in 2002 and my food choices have evolved in the mean time, but this recipe has remained a firm favourite for both of us. Sadly we don’t cook it often enough because both children hate the texture of roast vegetables, especially aubergine which they consider to be the devil’s work.
I have tweaked the instructions, but it is inspired by a Delia Smith recipe.
For the roasted vegetables:
- 1 aubergine cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) squares.
- 2 medium courgettes cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) squares.
- salt and freshly milled black pepper
- 450g cherry tomatoes
- 1 red pepper, de-seeded and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) squares
- 1 bulb fennel, roughly chopped
- 1 large onion, sliced and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) squares
- 2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, torn or roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 50g pitted black olives, sliced
- 1 heaped tablespoon capers, drained
For the couscous:
- 1 large mug couscous
- 1 large mug freshly boiled water.
For the dressing:
- 110 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 rounded teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 level tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 heaped tablespoons tomato purée
- 4 tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes)
- 1 x 75 g packet of mixed salad leaves
[Optional: Delia says to salt the aubergine and courgette an hour beforehand. It does help them to crisp up by extracting moisture, but aubergines are not as bitter as they once were so I find that omitting this step doesn’t affect the flavor. To salt the aubergine and courgette, cut them into 1 inch dice and toss them with 1 dsp rock salt. Pack them into a colander with a plate on top and a heavy weight on the plate. After an hour shake them about and lift them out of the salty colander onto a clean cloth. As you dry them, most of the salt should fall onto the cloth.]
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees fan/ gas mark 9. That is a hot oven so you need quite chunky veg or they will just burn. Now arrange the aubergine, courgettes, tomatoes, pepper, fennel and onion in a very large roasting tin, sprinkle with the crushed garlic, basil and olive oil, toss everything around in the oil to get a good coating and season with salt and pepper (if you salted the aubergine go easy with the salt). Place the tin on the highest shelf of the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the vegetables are caramelized at the edges. (If like me you had to spread them onto 2 trays they might need less time.)
While the veggies are roasting make the couscous and the dressing and cut the cheese into small pieces.
To make the dressing, measure the ingredients into a serving jug and mix with a whisk or fork. (Whisk again just before serving because it settles.)
Couscous is the easiest food in the world to prepare. Measure its volume using a mug and put it into a heat proof bowl with a little salt. (You may wish to heat the bowl first.) Measure an equal volume of very freshly boiled water into the bowl and get a lid straight on it (I use a plate). Don’t lift the lid for at least 5 minutes, then fluff it up with a fork, starting gently at the top. Voila!
Slice your olives and drain your capers, then mix them through the veg when you take them out of the oven.
To serve, place the couscous in a large, wide bowl and gently fork in the cubes of cheese along with the roasted vegetables. Next arrange the salad leaves on top and, just before serving, drizzle a little of the dressing over the top and hand the rest of the dressing around separately.