Roasted Broccoli & Fennel with spices

Do you find yourself talking back to your television? Amey does when he’s yelling at sports team for fouling a pitch or making an awesome catch. (Two different games. He’s all over the map with sports love.) I used to find it cute in a you’re-so-dorky-and-I-love-you-but-you-will-never-see-me-do-that kind of way. I would laugh and then carry on with the reading a book, Twitter feed, whatever was at hand. (He watches sports. I sit next to him and pretend to care because I love him. That’s our deal. Also, the rocking chair in the living room is the comfy-est seat in the house.)

They say couples take on each others personalities eventually. This was brought home to me in stark reality when I found myself doing exactly what he does. I was watching this cooking show on TV. The chef/host made a meatloaf and gravy with lavish attention, then added a vegetable side. It all looked real pretty when it landed in that platter. But the veggies? They had just been boiled in salted water and were then given the mandatory grinding of black pepper when they were served up. I found myself jumping up out of that rocking chair and yelling, “What the heck is up with that?!”

Yes, for him it’s sports. For me it is vegetables. I know one of us has our priorities straight. Vegetables get this second-hand treatment all the time, as if they are an after-thought. Which they may be, but they don’t have to be so gosh darn plain. No wonder there are ads on TV exhorting you to douse the veg you serve your children in ranch dressing. The flavour enhancement needs to come in somewhere.

Roasting your vegetables will take slightly longer to cook them than steaming or boiling. But the effort is minimal and cooking time is hands-off. Add just a little spice to those roasting veggies and watch them fairly sing with flavour. Full disclosure: I like my cooked vegetables cooked and my raw vegetables in a salad, so I tend to cook the vegetables till they are nicely caramelized to the verge of falling apart. But you can either let them caramelize or stay just a bit crunchy per your preference. The spice you add to them will do its job anyway.

Speaking of spice, I mix a few things into a blend, pound at it feebly with as much strength that my post-workday famished self can muster, and liberally sprinkle what vegetables I have with it. This then goes into the oven for a bit and can be served up in pretty much any fashion. Toss with pasta, serve over rice, place along side some roasted chicken or in an omelet. Honestly, you can just eat a super large portion of them all by themselves for the most gratifying, healthy-feeling dinner ever.
Roasted Broccoli, Fennel with spices
Makes 2-4 servings

Broccoli – 2 small heads, cut into florets
Fennel – 1 bulb, chopped in 1″ cubes
Garlic-flavoured olive oil – 3 tbsp
Dried red chilli – 3
Salt – 2 tsp or to taste

Spice mix:
Coriander seeds – 1 tbsp
Whole black pepper – 1/2 tbsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Poppy seeds – 1/2 tsp
Nigella seeds – 1/2 tsp
Caraway seeds – 1/2 tsp
Sumac – 1 tsp
Sesame seeds – 1/2 tsp
Dried oregano – 1/2 tsp

Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
Place all of the spices in a mortar and pestle and pound on them until they are ground to a coarse mix. Alternatively you can place them in a spice grinder and pulse a few times until coarsely ground.
– In a large bowl, place all florets of broccoli and cubed fennel. Add the olive oil and toss to coat.
– Add 2 tablespoons of the coarse spice mix. Break the dried red chillis into small pieces and crumble over the cut vegetables. Mix to incorporate throughly.
– Line a sheet pan or roasting pan with aluminum foil. Spread out the vegetable mixture in an even layer.
– Roast in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, pulling the tray out and turning the vegetables around the 20 minutes mark.

Serve to accompany any thing you please.

Cook’s notes:-
I keep flavoured oils and salts around for exactly this reason. Chopping garlic is fine and everything but sometimes you just want as little chopping as possible.
Use three minced cloves of garlic if you don’t have garlic flavoured oil.
I must confess I love to mess around with spices like some kind of mad doctor let loose in a laboratory, mixing a little bit of this with a little bit of that. After trial and error, I’ve come to understand not only what I like but also that it is hard to go wrong with spices if you don’t overdo quantities.
If you are using a spice grinder, just pulse the spices a couple of times. A coarse grind is what you are looking for. Sumac is great for a bit of tartness. If you don’t have it, use some lemon or lots of lemon zest. Caraway adds an anise-like touch. Make your own favourite blends. Vegetables love spice and are happier in their presence.

What about you? Do you have a pet spice blend to sprinkle on vegetables?