It’s no secret to my regular readers that I favor oven-roasted vegetables.
Roasting vegetables in a hot oven concentrates and develops subtle vegetable flavors that are lost when the same vegetables are boiled, stewed, or fried. Briam (Μπριάμ), a classic Greek medley of roasted vegetables, is one of my favorite ways to serve an abundance of vegetables. (My Briam recipe is in Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.)
While Briam is what I make most often, grilled and roasted vegetable combinations are popular throughout the Mediterranean region; I like them all. For example, in Tunisia, tomatoes, onions, and peppers are grilled and mixed with Tabil (pronounced “table”), a spice mix containing coriander seeds, caraway seeds, garlic, and dried red peppers, to make a refreshing cold salad called Mechouia.
This weekend I needed a main course, not a salad, but really had a taste for Mechouia. Inspired by a Paul Gayler recipe in A Passion for Vegetables, I decided to combine Tunisian Mechouia with Greek Briam. I used a vegetable combination typical of Briam and, as for Briam, oven-roasted the vegetables. However, instead of the herbs used in Briam, I seasoned the vegetables with Tabil and quickly charred them, two essential elements of Mechouia.
The vegetables can be completely cooked on a grill, in which case, the oven-roasting step is unnecessary. However, when I’m cooking on a stovetop grill pan (as I was yesterday due to the snow), it’s much easier to quickly char the vegetables on the grill pan and then finish cooking them in the oven.
A benefit to pre-cooking the vegetables on the grill is this step can be done well ahead. Although you can skip charring them and completely cook the vegetables in the oven, I don’t recommend it because you lose the smokiness, an important flavor element in this dish.
Smoky Tunisian Oven-Roasted Vegetables with Tabil (Τυνησιακό Μπριάμ)
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a side dish
Adapted from A Passion for Vegetables by Paul Gayler (Lyons Press 2000)
This dish is a combination of Briam and Mechouia; it has Briam’s oven-roasted vegetable medley, with Mechouia’s smokiness and spicing. We like spicy food, so I use the larger amounts shown in the ingredient list for Tabil. If you prefer less highly seasoned food, use the smaller amounts. If you’re unsure, mix up the dry spices and add half to the vegetables along with all of the garlic; when the vegetables are done, taste and add more dry spice mix, as needed. Tabil tastes great with any kind of vegetable (or fish, meat, or poultry), so consider the list of vegetables as only a suggestion. Leftovers may be roughly chopped and added to vegetable or chicken stock for an easy mid-week soup.
1 – 2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 – 2 tsp. caraway seeds
1” – 2” piece of dried red pepper or 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 tsp. finely minced fresh garlic
4 medium Yukon Gold or red potatoes
2 medium zucchini
2 red bell peppers
1 large fennel bulb
1 extra large onion
Freshly ground black pepper
For the Tabil spice mix: Mix all the ingredients together.
For the Vegetables: Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Wash all the vegetables. Peel the potatoes, and cut into large chunks. Parboil the potatoes in salted water for 7 minutes, drain, and put them in a large roasting pan.
Cut the zucchini on the diagonal into 3/4” slices. Discard the peppers’ seeds and stems, and cut each into six lengthwise slices. Cut off the stalks and leaves of the fennel, and cut the bulb in lengthwise quarters. Remove most of the core, leaving enough so the layers of fennel stay together. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise. Peel the onion, leaving the stem end intact so the layers of onion stay together, and cut into 3/4” wide lengthwise sections. Put all the vegetables in the roasting pan, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper, liberally drizzle with olive oil, and toss the vegetables to coat them with oil.
Heat a grill pan until it's white hot (or fire up the grill). Quickly char the vegetables on both sides, but don’t cook the vegetables through. Char the vegetables in batches; for me, it's easiest to lay them out on the grill pan one at a time. As each vegetable is done, return it to the roasting pan. (I set the peppers aside, and peel them before adding them to the pan; this step is optional.)
When all the vegetables are done, sprinkle the Tabil over, and toss the vegetables to evenly distribute the spices. If the vegetables seem dry, drizzle with a little more olive oil. Spread the vegetables out into a single layer.
Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes. Serve immediately with couscous, green salad, olives, and plenty of bread for soaking up the splendidly spicy oil and vegetable juices.
Variation: For a saucier version, stir in one 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes (or 2 cups freshly diced tomatoes) just before putting the roasting pan in the oven.
Oven-Roasted Vegetable Recipes
Roast Cauliflower with Dukkah (Dukkah, a Middle Eastern spice mix, enhances roasted cauliflower).
Oven-Roasted Vegetables (Λαχανικά στο Φούρνο) (How to bring out the flavor of vegetables by oven-roasting them).
Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Sweet Potatoes (Oven roasted vegetables are an ideal accompaniment to holiday meals.)
Roasted Beets with Celery Root Skordalia (Roasted celery root is a low-calorie, high-flavor alternative to bread or potatoes in the wonderful Greek garlic spread called skordalia.)