..and my accidental discovery of the delicious-ness that is fennel
When you’re looking down the gauntlet that is packing a week’s worth of lunches, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the task ahead. However, lest you give up hope prematurely, roast some vegetables. These will come in handy in ways you have yet to imagine. They add immediate glam-factor and depth of flavor to your simple salad and they can be the star ingredient in a delicious and healthy sandwich in no time.
If you think that roasting vegetables is hard, think again.
At it’s most basic, roasting vegetables is cutting up vegetables and putting them in a slightly hotter-than-average oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. The incredible thing about vegetables is that the sugars in them will allow for the development of whole new flavors, simply as a result of the high heat.
I recently read about roasting fennel so I decided that I would give it a try myself, along with a well-known and familiar roasting vegetable, the zucchini (or courgette). If you’ve never tried roasting fennel, try it immediately! In general, I have always had an aversion to the anise (aka liquorice) flavor that is associated with fennel, but roasting it does incredible things to it and you will not regret it.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re getting your vegetables ready is that they need to be cut in similarly-sized pieces so that they will cook in approximately the same time. If you have really small and really big, the little ones will be completely overdone by the time the big ones are ready.
Once your vegetables are cut, the sky is the limit as far as seasoning combinations. As a base, I usually start with olive oil and salt and fresh black pepper.
From that base, if you’re looking for a little bit of heat, a dusting of cayenne pepper or chili flakes pairs nicely with some paprika. If you’ve got some dried herbs, oregano and thyme go nicely together. You could go with some cajun seasoning, or cumin and coriander. An unpeeled crushed clove of garlic will do wonders. Never underestimate what a difference the seasoning can make to your roasted veggies. The important thing is to try it out and figure out which flavors you’re partial to.
Roasting vegetables to packing lunch
So now you have roasted vegetables, what do you do with them? One of my favorite ways to use them for lunch is in a salad. What follows isn’t exactly a recipe as I haven’t given you any measures, but it’s a template for what you can throw together for very rewarding results!
Roasted Veggie and Goat’s Cheese Salad
What you’ll need:
- raw veggies, thinly sliced or shaved (radish, carrot, cucumber, pepper…)
- roasted vegetables, fully cooled (fennel, zucchini, eggplant/aubergine, celeriac…)
- nuts or seeds, toasted or not (pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds…)
- goat’s cheese, soft
- lemon juice, from half a lemon
- olive oil
- black pepper, freshly cracked
Never underestimate the power of fresh-squeezed lemon juice!
What to do:
- For the dressing, you have two options. The first is to combine it in the bottom of the container/jar you will be using for your salad. Some people worry that this will render the whole salad soggy, but I have found that if you place the raw veggies in a first layer in the container, it acts as a rather impermeable barrier. Your second option is to use a small container (some ideas here) and mix your dressing in there, pouring it over the salad when you are ready to eat.
- For best results, I’m a firm supporter of the school of thought that suggests placing the most sturdy ingredients. In line with that thinking, place the raw vegetables in your container.
- Add the roasted vegetables and the nuts or seeds.
- Crumble the goat’s cheese over the veggies.
- Finish by placing a few handfuls of the greens over the top.