It’s quite sad that vegetables are considered boring and bland. Truthfully, that’s how it’s presented. A former co-worker and I were at a buffet. It had fried and barbecue chicken, rice and peas, mac and cheese, and all the delicious ceremonial dishes. In the midst of the buffet was the notorious tasteless vegetable platter with grape tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and green bell pepper. Usually, there’s a gooey ranch dressing in the center of the platter. Honestly, I skip over the vegetable tray. The dry taste is not worth the “must-eat-your-vegetables” guilt. As my co-worker grabbed a few pieces, she said, “…Must take a few ‘feel good’ vegetables, but no one ever wants to eat them.” As predicted, the lightly nibbled vegetables were scraped into the garbage when she was done eating.
If a vegetable tray is going to be served, lightly blanch some flavor into those carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, and add a little sea salt, black pepper and fresh lemon juice. However, the one problem I have with vegetable trays is they’re not fully incorporated into a menu. In our culture, vegetables are treated as an after-thought. Those Indian curries aren’t complete without a tray of vegetable or herbal-based chutney. Caribbean dishes are famous for their grilled vegetables and fruit. In the Middle East, yogurt-based dips are blended with a variation of nuts, herbs, and cucumbers. Spanish and Italian cuisines have many salads, types of salsas or tapas of fresh, marinated or picked vegetables. Some Asian cultures treat vegetables as the main course meal, for meat is used as a flavoring. We don’t think of these small dishes as vegetables, but we know they pack a lot of flavor and spice into a meal. When vegetables are creatively prepared to have more flavor, it holds it’s own against a meat dish.
How does a vegetable stand up against a meat dish? One way is to roast them to warmly sweeten them. For example, raw eggplants never look appetizing to eat, but when they’re roasted, they’re addictive. They’re delicious pureed into dips or creamy toppings for vegetarian or meat dishes. Another vegetable (technically a fruit), are summer tomatoes. They’re naturally sweet, but when they’re roasted, their sugar caramelizes into a savory and sweeter taste. Roast vegetables add more flavors to grains, pasta, or tomato sauces. A plate of roast vegetables drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh herbs is more appealing than a cold, uncooked vegetable tray.
Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, I added roast vegetables to this chicken taco recipe. A red onion, one tomato, minced garlic, and half an eggplant were roasted in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, and spices. At the grocery story, I dared myself to buy a turnip, because the jicama was unavailable. It was shredded and tossed with a chopped Cubanelle pepper, olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, spices and cilantro. It’s a refreshing salsa that picks up the flavors of the chicken and the roast vegetables. Once the tacos were stuffed, a spoonful of thick Greek yogurt, instead of sour cream, was placed on top. If you have access to queso fresco cheese, use it in the taco, too. The roast vegetables, turnip salsa, sliced scallions, and roughly chopped cilantro are equally delicious with the shredded chicken.
Hopefully, we can move beyond the cold vegetable platter into incorporating more vegetable and fruit full of flavor into a menu. Eating vegetables should not feel like a chore. After all, there are more varieties of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and spices than meat. In addition, they’re cheaper to purchase and faster to prepare for a meal. Next time, when that little voice tells your soul, “Eat your vegetables,” ask yourself, “How can I prepare it differently with more (or another) flavor this time?”
Chicken and Roast Eggplant – Tomato Tacos with Turnip Salsa
Roast Lime Cilantro Chicken
Easier Method Ingredients and Directions
Shred a rotisserie chicken from natural grocery store or left over chicken from another recipe. Mix with fresh lime juice and roughly chopped cilantro.
Easy Method Ingredients
1/2 lb. chicken parts (white and/or dark meat) with skin and bones; cleaned and seasoned with olive oil, a dash of balsamic vinegar, lime juice, sea salt, fresh black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and chili powder
The juice of one lime
1/4 cup fresh cilantro; roughly chopped
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place seasoned chicken parts over a foil-lined baking sheet.
2. Depending on the size of the chicken parts, roast for 25 to 40 minutes, until done.
3. Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle. Shred meat and discard bones.
4. Mix fresh lime juice and cilantro with shredded chicken. Place aside and keep warm.
Turnip (or Jicama) Salsa
1 small or medium turnip or jicama; scrubbed clean with outer skin peeled and discarded; Cut and discard stem/end pieces; grated
1 pinch of crushed red pepper; to taste
Sea salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro; minced
A drizzle of olive oil
A dash of white balsamic vinegar
1 Cubanelle/Italian pepper; diced
The juice one lime
1. Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Place aside in the refrigerator to marinate until ready to use.
Roast Tomatoes and Eggplant
1 small eggplant
1 large tomato; quartered into thin slices
1 medium red onion; roughly chopped
A generous drizzle of olive oil
A dash of red balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
1 large garlic; minced
A pinch of crushed red pepper; to taste
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 to 1/2 cup cilantro
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. (Optional step: Use a vegetable peeler and discard eggplant’s skin) Cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Thinly slice horizontally. Place in slice on a board surface or cutting board in one layer. Generously sprinkle with salt. Let eggplant slices rest for 20 to 30 minutes to let the salt draw out the bitter juices. Rinse the slices of the salt and pat them dry.
2. Over foil-lined cookie sheet, gently toss the eggplant slices and the rest of the ingredients together.
3. Place in the oven and roast vegetables for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Mix occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the pan.
4. When vegetables are complete, place in a bowl. Place aside and keep warm.
Prepping Corn Taco Shells
See Saucy Enchiladas with Amaranth Greens and Corn recipe for directions on preparing and frying corn tortilla shells.
Assembling the Chicken and Roast Eggplant-Tomato Tacos with Turnip Salsa
1. Place chicken inside of the tacos and layer with Roast Eggplant and Tomatoes. Top with Turnip/Jicama Salsa. Place a dollop of very thick Greek yogurt (plain/unsweetened) or sour cream on top.
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