Welcome to Mise en Place, a column which takes its cue from the French tradition that literally translates to “everything in it’s place.” More than just the culinary process of prepping and assembling ingredients beforehand, Mise en Place is a state of mind. A philosophy of cooking, that will equip you will all the tips, tricks and hacks you need to embrace and elevate your inner chef!
This edition sees Sarah Edwards of Copper + Cloves reveal the fragrant art and simple science of tray bakes. Over to her.
With banana bread mastery the new skill everyone is committed to honing in the time of Corona, home-ovens across the world have never been busier. But while ovens are most popularly associated with baking, for me, the brilliance of an oven has far more to do with savoury food than cakes and cookies. The real beauty of an oven is that it makes vegetables taste so much more delicious when roasted!
With traditional Indian home-cooked food not requiring an oven, most kitchens in India do not come with a built-in one.
However, incorporating an oven into your infrastructure need not be a costly investment in terms of both time and energy. The best thing I have discovered in recent years is that the kind of cheap OTG table-top oven that is widely available is in fact a high quality and extremely effective bit of kit, requiring as little as Rs. 3,000 to get you started! This type of oven works better than the kind which also doubles as a microwave; and is also far cheaper.
Roasting trays of veggies with fragrant aromatics is part art, part science.
I evangelise about traybakes and this type of dish is reason enough to go out and get a nice table-top OTG oven! Besides being easy to make, tray bakes are a great way of preserving the nutrients in the vegetables while also intensifying the flavours.
The concept is simple, involving minimal hassle. Scrub and cut up your veggies into roughly equal pieced sizes; and toss them in a roasting tray with your favourite flavours – a nice cold-pressed oil, herbs, spices, maybe a squeeze of lemon – and then pop that whole tray in the oven – at a low temperature – to slow roast.
During the roasting time, the veggies soften and are sheathed by some lovely golden brown bits; the herbs wilt and infuse their fragrant flavours into everything they touch; and the spices are toasted, swimming happily in those caramelised juices at the bottom of the tray.
Depending on what type of vegetables you’re using, they will need to be in the oven for between 45 minutes and an hour and 10 mins. Meanwhile, you’re free to relax with plenty of spare time to cook up a whole grain and keep some fresh garnishes aside for when the tray bake comes out.
Basic Five Step Formula for a Tray Bake
Step 1: Choose 2-3 veggies
Select from pumpkin, zucchini, brinjals, carrots, beetroot, sweet potato, regular potato, capsicums, onions, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, cherry tomatoes.
As a rule of thumb, go for veggies that take roughly the same time to cook. So for example, stick with root veggies such as sweet potato, carrots and beetroots or red capsicum, tomatoes, onions.
For quantity, think about the size of your roasting tray. You want to create an even, single layer of veggies which fill the entire tray without too much space, but not a double layer.
Step 2: Add aromatics/ flavour-makers
Spoon over 2-3 tbsp cold pressed oil like olive oil, mustard oil or toasted sesame oil.
Select from: a few cloves of garlic, a tablespoon grated ginger, a handful of chopped fresh herbs or a few spoons of dried herbs, the juice/slices of a lemon or orange.
Finally, also add a teaspoon of whole spices such as coriander seeds, fennel seeds, jeera seeds, kalonji seeds, star anise or ajwain seeds – all spices that are perfect in a traybake (you can mix them up as well). And don’t forget a good teaspoon of salt and pepper! This is your chance to get creative and try out new flavour combinations!
Step 3: Oven roast
Mix up everything well until evenly coated and pop in the oven. If you are cooking harder root veggies, keep the top of the tray foiled tightly for the first 30 minutes to let them soften in their own steam; and then remove the foil to let the veggies catch some golden brown edges and shrink down for the second half hour. We’re really looking for the veggies to caramelise!
Step 4: Pick a wholegrain
Think millet, pearl barley, quinoa, or brown rice. Cook in salted water until just cooked.
You want about 2 cups of cooked grain per roasting tray; however, this really depends on how filling you want to make it. You can stir through a lot of grain to make it more of a main meal; or add just a few tablespoons to absorb the juices if you want it to be lighter, more like a warm salad or side dish. You could also add handfuls of cooked chana at this stage for a boost of protein!
Step 5 – Put everything together and garnish
Once your tray bake is out of the oven, you have yet another chance to add more textures and flavours.
After stirring through your cooked grain, add more fresh herbs – perhaps something crunchy like chopped nuts or toasted seeds – and something sweet for a balance, such as pomegranate seeds, chopped dates or dried apricots or raisins!
While this works as a totally plant-based meal, if you would like, at this point you could crumble over some cheese (feta would really work), put dollops of hung curd or strips of cooked chicken.
Get into the habit of making traybakes on a Sunday – you will increase the variety of vegetables that you eat, which is crucial for an overall healthy digestive system and to ensure you are getting a broad range of nutrients. You will find it easier to cook yourself a healthy plant-based dinner when you are having a busy day. If you ever leave the house again, traybakes are perfect for packing and taking to work for a healthy yet satisfying lunch.
The idea is to get creative and put your own stamp on your tray bake, according to your favourite flavours. But to get you started, have a gander at this Mediterranean Veggie Tray Bake – super easy and perfect for summer, The zingy sweetlime and fennel seeds make it really refreshing! Get the recipe, here.
We’d love to hear from you! Do let us know if you try this recipe – you can leave a comment below and/ or tag us in your delicious creations on Instagram @the_foodiediaries.
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