I’m a huge advocate for cooking at home, but I’m also a very practical person. I don’t have hours to make a beautiful Julia Child-style meal with 15 different components. What I do have is a love to letting natural ingredients shine by preparing them without a whole lot of fuss, and frankly, without a whole lot of time! I’m going to let you in on a few tips I have up my sleeve for making quick weeknight dinners along with a go-to-recipe I make at least once per week: Roasted Vegetables with Chickpeas
Strategy #1: Use Parchment Paper
I view my life in two phases: The sad PPP (Pre-Parchment Paper) era and the current PPK (Parchment Paper Knowledge) era. Parchment paper makes such a huge difference in weeknight cooking, giving health benefits, enhancing flavor and making cleanup less of a chore. By setting down parchment paper on a cookie sheet or roasting pan, nothing will stick to the pan or the paper. I don’t have to drench the vegetables in oil to keep them from sticking, saving calories. Plus clean up is as easy as throwing the paper away and giving the pan a quick wash, no scrubbing or soaking required, no caked on stuff to scrape off.
Strategy #2: Cut up vegetables into similar sized pieces
I tend to switch up this recipe depending on what I have on hand and what is in season. Typical vegetables to use this time of year are…
- One or two potatoes (Russet or Yukon Gold are great)
- One or two yams or sweet potatoes
- Butternut or Delicata squash (a note about Delicata: It’s a lazy chef's dream--a delicious squash with a taste similar to butternut, but its skin is completely edible! It's actually more closely related to zucchini. Just slice it into strips, remove the seeds, then cut into chunks)
- Sometimes I’ll switch it up and use carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc.
By cutting up the vegetables to similar sized chunks (about one inch cubes or smaller), everything cooks at the same rate so I don’t end up with a combo of yam ashes and hard raw potatoes. I also recommend adding a roughly chopped onion (any kind is fine) and 2-3 cloves of garlic that you've flattened with the side of a knife and chopped a bit.
Strategy #3: Spice it up!
Onions and garlic will lend great flavors to your vegetables, but you can get really creative with your spices to make the meal extra special:
- Add a tablespoon of curry powder or garam masala for a bit of Indian flare
- Smoked paprika adds a wonderful richness
- Cumin and cumin seeds lend a smoky exotic flavor
- Even good old basil & oregano, powered garlic & onions, or your favorite seasoning salt add depth and flavor
I also add salt to the mix. I like to stir the seasoning on the vegetables, and sometimes I’ll add a tablespoon or so of coconut oil for flavor and to get some browning. Some oils like olive oil may burn at a roasting temperature, which ruins their flavor and actually makes them unhealthful to eat.
At this point, I pop the pan into the oven preheated to about 380 degrees and plan to find something else to do for 45-55 minutes (pay some bills, answer some emails, play Candy Crush, whatever).
Strategy #4: Add quicker-cooking vegetables halfway through baking
If you want to add tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli or cauliflower, you can most definitely do that for additional flavor, texture and nutritional benefit. If you add these at the beginning of the cooking time, they’ll be burnt husks by the time your potatoes are cooked. Set the timer on your phone for 20 minutes or so when you first put the pan in the oven, then add them to the pan at that point in the cooking.
Strategy #5: Canned beans are your friend
About ten minutes before my final timer goes off, I like to add a can of drained chickpeas or cannellini beans, or really any kind of bean you like. It’s an easy way to add a healthy protein and nice flavor to the meal without a lot of time & effort.
Strategy #6: Vinegar brightens roasted vegetables beautifully
If you, like me, watch the fine Bravo program Top Chef, you’ve heard the chefs and judges go on and on about the importance of acid in a dish. If you are not sure what the heck that means, try this experiment: Once you’ve roasted your vegetables, taste a bite of potato. Not bad! Now sprinkle it with a light vinegar—I love to use Seasoned or Unseasoned Rice Vinegar, which you can find in the Asian section of your grocery store. The vinegar really does brighten up the flavor and adds real pop! I’ll sprinkle about two tablespoons of vinegar to the pan.
This recipe makes for a fantastic Meatless Monday dinner, or a quick meal any night of the week. Let me know if you give it a try!
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