‘Tis the season to roast things. Turn that oven on to warm up and get cozy, and as long as it’s on, roast up a mess of vegetables. For a fun take on salad, try this Roasted Roots and Quinoa Salad, on a bed of spinach, and topped with a tangy Pomegranate vinaigrette. The sweet, earthy roots are beautiful to behold, and meltingly tender to bite.
Why Root Vegetables?
If you are unfamiliar with the joy of roasted roots, let me be your guide. I’m using a Chioggia Beet, prized for it’s candy cane-like stripes and sweet flavor. Of course, if you don’t have a striped beet handy, you can always use red or orange beets. The main difference is that red beets are more generous with their burgundy pigment when roasted, so you may see some pink color dappled in your parsnips if you roast it all in one pan. The Chioggias and orange beets don’t do this.
Parsnips are one of my favorite roots to roast. They are in the same family as carrots and parsley, and in Roman times, were considered an aphrodisiac. When left in the ground through a few frosts, the parsnip converts more of its starches to sugars, making it sweeter. In fact, before sugar became available in Europe, parsnips were used to make a sweetener in much the same way we make beet sugar today. When raw, they are a bit too fibrous for my taste, but when roasted, their nutty, sweet flavor comes to the fore.
A big fat carrot is another fantastic root for roasting. Carrots are also sweet and tender after some time in the oven. We all know carrots are good for you, raw or cooked, but it’s interesting to note that some of the nutrients are more available when the carrot is cooked. Olive oil has a synergy with vegetables, too, making carotenoids and glucosinalates absorbable by the body.
How Do You Roast Root Vegetables?
I have a big roasting pan, and for this recipe, I sliced the roots in pretty rounds, about 1/3 of an inch thick. I coated them with olive oil and covered the pan with foil- that’s an important step. Roasting them in a 400 F oven with a cover lets the roots steam in their own juices, and keeps them moist and buttery. Roasting uncovered gives you a drier, tougher result.
I also roasted some garlic cloves for the dressing, by putting them in a square of foil, drizzling with olive oil, and making a packet. Then I roasted them for about 20 minutes. I tested the cloves by piercing with a knife, and when tender, I let them cool and mashed them. Roasted garlic is also sweet and earthy, and gives the dressing some body, as well.
Whole Grains Make Great Salads
To make this a salad that qualifies as a main course, I added some quinoa and pistachios. Everybody loves quinoa, for its light, fluffy texture and mild, nutty taste. It’s also a nutrient packed all-star, with more protein than most grains, and a whole array of beneficial nutrients. It’s great in salads, soaking up dressings and taking on the flavors of the dish.
Try a Roasted Roots Salad this Winter
You’ll be following in the footsteps of the Ancient Romans, and who knows, maybe that aphrodisiac quality will come through for you!
Roasted Roots and Quinoa Salad
- 6 large garlic cloves peeled
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 large parsnip peeled and sliced
- 1 large carrot peeled and sliced
- 1 medium chiogga beet peeled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup quinoa
- 5 ounces salad spinach
- 1/2 cup pistachios
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Tear a 6-inch square of foil, place the garlic cloves in the center, drizzle the cloves with a teaspoon of the oil and fold the edges of the foil together to form a pouch. Roast for 20 minutes, until the cloves are tender. Let cool and mash.In a large roasting pan, arrange the sliced roots and drizzle with oil, spread them so they are all in contact with the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt. Cover the pan with foil and roast for 30 minutes, then uncover and pierce with a paring knife, check to see if they are tender. When soft and browned, take out and cool on a rack.
- Place the mashed garlic in a medium bowl, then stir in the pomegranate molasses and vinegar. Add salt and stir. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Reserve.
- In a small pot, bring 3/4 cup water to a boil, then add the quinoa. Return to a boil, cover tightly, then simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. When all the water is absorbed, take off the heat and let cool completely.
- To build the salad, spread the spinach on a large platter, then mound the quinoa in the center. Arrange the roasted roots on top, and drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with pistachios and serve.