Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Scientific Salad

I wish there was a way to photograph smells. If there was, you'd be inhaling this; a heavenly perfume of a Moroccan-inspired spice mix that I found here. I'd always been really intimidated by spices. I never knew how to use them; I was too concerned with amounts and proper combinations to really play with them and discover for myself what I liked. I felt much safer with my trusty salt and pepper shakers. I've always been awed by culinary alchemy; how does it come to be, this delicate, invisible formation of gold from common elements?

Some things truly don't make sense when you put them on paper. Almost Husband likes aggressive rock and comic books. He loves his limited diet of meat, potatoes and ice cream, and prefers to travel the perimeters closest to home. My love of music doesn't encompass 'noise metal' and I can't seem to get into comic books. I love exploring new foods and dream constantly of travelling to faraway places. We push. We pull. And yet, all of the things we bring to this concept of 'us', including all the things that clash and conflict still manage to make something beautiful in its own right.

(And it only took me 14 years to work that out.

The other day I bought some ground cardamom, for the first time ever. It sat on my shelf all afternoon, imbuing my kitchen with its cool, indescribable smell. I'd run across so many recipes calling for it that I figured it was time to try it. As I was putting together the spice mix, I was completely bewitched by the earthy, warm colours; all together, they looked like a patchwork landscape view you'd see from a plane that was starting to make its slow descent. I almost didn't want to stir them up and destroy the beauty. But I did, and I followed Kevin's recipe pretty much to the letter and with delight because he positively saturated his ingredients with flavour (most of the time, my indelicate palate requires a good bludgeoning of flavour to activate itself - I'm working on it.)

I roasted up a bunch of veggies that were languishing in the fridge and put on the quinoa while I waited. I only managed to set off the smoke detector once, thanks to my demonic oven, but at least this guaranteed me a pet-free kitchen, which in turn guaranteed me a clear pathway to the fridge without anyone getting hurt.

I was starving by the time everything was ready, as I'd started cooking a bit late, but this was so worth the relatively short wait. It was exactly the sort of combustion of flavours I love; the spice was pronounced but didn't dominate the other ingredients, and I loved the sweet bursts of raisins and cranberries amidst the salty vinaigrette. And the colours! I know they harken more to fall than spring, but when something is so beautiful, who cares about seasonal propriety!

Almost Husband made appreciative noises at my bowl when I brought it into the living room, and we sat down, my Mr. Meat-N-Potatoes and me, and ate our very different meals side by side. I am not a scientific person by nature. But I know romantic alchemy when I feel it.

Moroccan Roasted Carrot And Chickpea Quinoa Salad - via Closet Cooking

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" thick circles
1 red pepper, chopped into smallish pieces
1 small bunch of broccoli, cut into smallish pieces
1 small onion, cut into rings

3-4 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon moroccan spice blend

1/2 cup red quinoa

1/2 cup white quinoa

2 cups water (I used chicken broth)

2 teaspoons moroccan spice blend
1 cup chickpeas (drained and rinsed)

1/4 cup red onion (I skipped this)

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts (I skipped this too and used dried cranberries instead)

1 handful parsley (um, I skipped this too; I can't do parsley)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon (zest and juice)

1 teaspoon moroccan spice blend
salt and pepper to taste

Moroccan Spice Mix:
2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper


1. Prepare spice mix.

2. Get oven good and hot, approximately 350-400 F. Combine the oil and spice mix and drizzle it over the chopped veggies in a roasting pan. Stir to coat all the veggies and roast till they're soft and fragrant and browned a bit.

3. While you wait for the veg to roast, rinse the quinoa to remove the bitterness and heat up the chicken broth or water. Once boiling, add the quinoa and cook at a hearty simmer till the broth/water has evaporated. Set aside and add the raisins and cranberries and rinsed chickpeas - the quinoa is still nice and hot and will soften them up!

4. Combine the 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp of spice mix and the lemon juice and zest in a small jar and shake till well combined.

5. By now the veggies should be done; add them to the quinoa mixture, then add the dressing and stir till everything is coated. Salt and pepper to taste.


  1. This looks so good! I'm always looking for new things to bring for lunch to my 9 to 5 job. I might just attempt this. Quinoa: know about it, but have never made it.

  2. Jess, it IS really good; I'm on day three of eating it and it's still good! (I'm also getting leftover-burnout a little)