Sunday, November 27, 2011

contemplating nature and spice

Deborah takes a hike...
The perfect weather this Thanksgiving weekend led me out of doors to walk off some of the holiday meal.  Rockefeller State Park Preserve is touted for its scenic walking trails and it did not disappoint on Saturday when I wandered through the wooded areas taking pictures and enjoying the warm fresh air.
As I composed and shot my photos I began to think about my friend Michele Beck, a visual artist who keenly observes nature with a quiet poetry. Michele's work explores the quirky side of the human impulse to impose our physical presence, and our story telling, on the natural world. She makes these observations sometimes by discovery and sometimes by design, tapping in to spirituality, myth and creation. Her work is very contemplative and inspirational; perfect for a walk in the woods!

These photos, inspired by the work of my friend Michele Beck, were all taken on the 13 Bridges Trail at Rockefeller State Preserve, a two mile loop that was perfect for my casual stroll.

The walking of course made me hungry and it is always time to think about the next meal. A simple saute of vegetables livened up with a spice blend seemed like a good way to segue back into post holiday eating. I had been waiting to try the Moroccan spice blend Ras el Hanout that I had recently received as a gift and this seemed like a perfect occasion.

The blend has many ingredients including allspice, cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, clove and rose petals. I was excited about the rose petals but I have to admit they kind of got lost in the sauce. It seems there are many variations to this blend, not unlike curry powder.

The best way to get to know a spice blend is to use it.  I began by sauteing up some shallots in oil to create some caramelizing, then add the spices and let them simmer in the oil for a few minutes to infuse the oil with their flavor.  I like to let the vegetables cook until just tender so there is still a hint of crunch in the center.
What a shock to discover this morning that the carrot seeds I planted in the spring could actually yield something edible. So exciting!

Any number of vegetable combinations could work with this recipe. I like cauliflower cooked with assertive spices. I think it really holds up to bold flavor. The Ras el Hanout reminded me of a Jamaican jerk spice blend, very floral and woodsy. The carrots added a sweetness and the green beans bring crunch and color. The finished dish was addictive with the robust spice making this light dish really hearty and satisfying.

Mixed Vegetables Seasoned with Ras el Hanout
1 shallot minced
pinch of salt
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout
1 cup of sliced carrots
1 cup cauliflower broken into florets
1cup of green beans chopped into two inch pieces
1/4 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon

•Cook the shallot with a pinch of salt, in the oil for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the shallots are golden brown and a bit gummy.
•Add the Ras el Hanout and stir to coat the spices completely in the oil. Toast the spices in the oil for 2-3 minutes on a medium heat.
•Add the chopped vegetables and stir to coat with the spice oil. Let the vegetables sit in the hot pan without moving, to get a few brown spots, turning up the heat a bit if you need to. Stir every few minutes until most sides of the vegetables have cooked in contact with the bottom of the pan.
•Add the water, let the water come to a simmer and then cover the pan and allow to cook for 5- 8 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and cooked through. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the vegetables and serve.

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