ras el hanout roasted roots with tahini yoghurt dressing and caramelised onions

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I will be the first to admit that chopping pumpkin is probably up there with my top 5 least favourite cooking tasks. Peeling root vegetables is also up there. Moreover, it was only on leaving my teens that I developed an appreciation for the sweetness of kumara (sweet potato) and pumpkin. Apparently I’m making up for lost time now, because I now absolutely devour them at any opportunity – especially this one. When I do go to the effort of roasting up some vegetables, I’m never disappointed – perhaps because I am so satisfied with the apparent effort I feel has to go into preparing them. We ate this salad yesterday evening alongside a spatchcocked chicken cooked in our new Weber kettle barbecue, which has been a delight to experiment with! Last night involved using a hair-dryer to heat the charcoal more quickly – but was perhaps more just a novel way to play with fire. I didn’t mind being on salad duty as I was so happy with the result!

Ras el hanout is not a spice itself, rather a spice mix originating from North Africa. It literally means “head of the shop”, and implies an array of the best spices the vendor has to offer. It can contain a range – usually a selection of 12. I bought mine ready-made from Equagold, which has strong cinnamon, turmeric and cumin flavours. I would describe it as being quite a warm spice; that really helps to bring out the caramelisation that comes from a good roasting.

Tahini is a paste made from hulled sesame seeds, and kind of tastes like a very complex peanut butter. While it’s absolutely not delicious eaten off the spoon, as is the case with many nut butters, it has an incredible depth of flavour that works incredibly well in dressings, and is part of the traditional recipe for hummus. It keeps for ages and is a great pantry staple to have, as it comes in handy in North African and Middle Eastern cooking.

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This salad is gigantic, and makes enough for 4-6 people to eat as a side dish. Any leftovers could be eaten for lunch.

ras el hanout roasted roots with tahini yoghurt dressing and caramelised onions

Prep Time: 40 Mins Cooking Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients:

  • 1 eggplant/aubergine
  • 1/4 butternut pumpkin, peeled and deseeded
  • 2 medium (roughly 400g) kumara/sweet potato
  • 3 floury potatoes (roughly 300g)
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp ras el hanout spice mix
  • Salt and pepper to season

Tahini yoghurt dressing:

  • 200g Greek or plain yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

To serve:

  • Green leaves of your choice – I used baby rocket
  • 2 small red onions, diced
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil – I used coconut
  • 50g pumpkin seeds
  • Sumac, for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F/175C bake setting. Chop the root vegetables and aubergine into equal sized pieces. The quantities of each vegetable can be adjusted as per preference, but ensure you have enough to fill a 13 x 9 inch roasting dish. Arrange the veggies in a roasting dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle over the ras el hanout and plenty of salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables to coat them evenly.
  2. Roast in the oven for 40-50 minutes, giving the dish a good stir at least once through cooking for even roasting. Remove from heat to cool to lukewarm temperature.

Dressing:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Add salt to taste.

Assembly:

  1. Quickly dry roast the pumpkin seeds (pine nuts would be a great alternative here) in a pan over medium heat, stirring frequently to ensure they don’t catch and burn. Set aside for sprinkling.
  2. Caramelise the onions in the same pan, again over medium heat. Heat the coconut oil in the pan and add the onions, cooking for around 10 minutes until they have completely softened and browned. Season with salt during cooking.
  3. I serve this salad with everything at luke-warm to room temperature. If prepping the salad in advance, the vegetables and dressing can be stored in the fridge in airtight containers for up to a day prior. Bring everything out at least an hour or two prior to serving so it’s not too cold.
  4. On a serving platter, arrange the leaves as a bed for the roasted vegetables to be piled on top of. Drop and drizzle with the tahini yoghurt dressing. Sprinkle with the seeds, scatter the onions and pinch dashes of sumac on top for extra zing. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
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