spaghetti squash nests with moroccan spices

Seasons are now things of the past. Figments of memory, slices of lives lived farther north. With brisk days and crisp leaves behind me, I must now cultivate awareness—try to notice the small changes around me that signal the onset of what has always been my favorite time of year. McIntosh apples appearing at the grocery store (finally!), slightly cooler mornings and evenings, clearer coastal skies, an indigo-colored ocean. And yes, a tree here and there that’s decided to ignore it’s southerly surroundings, shedding a brown leaf here and there on the sidewalk to wait for the crush of my sandal.

I do miss the fall I have loved so much. But sitting on the beach at “negative tide” (a new term that I’ve learned is a synonym for “wow”) isn’t all that bad. And thank the newly cloudless skies there’s still squash, that harbinger of cozy, indoor evenings to come.

We’ve been eating a lot of spaghetti squash lately. It’s easy to square away in the oven while you prepare the accompaniments, and it’s just so, well, fun. (Not that I don’t LOVE the other offerings in the squash family, as my kabocha-udon noodles, quinoa-stuffed acorn squash, and warm butternut and chickpea salad can attest to. Not to mention the many other squash recipes that have showed up around these parts.) Scraping out the stringy flesh, I always think about the peasant who first discovered this freak of nature gourd: did she giggle when she set the fruits of her family’s labor down on the table? I would have.

Spaghetti squash is as versatile as the rest of the squash family, equally as delicious baked with butter and maple syrup as it is topped with more savory ingredients. But this variety of squash lends itself especially well to the pasta treatment, somewhat obviously, and my favorite way to eat it has been with a garlicky homemade puttanesca sauce. That is until I applied one of my favorite spice combinations to the stringy mass.

When I need some inspiration, there’s nothing like the good ‘ol Internet to help marinate the creativity. I was excited to find this recipe (from the 2002 issue of Gourmet – RIP), and after perusing some of the reviews and suggestions, took to the kitchen. Chickpeas are usually the featured legume in Moroccan cuisine, but they didn’t go very well with the squash, color-wise, so I chose my favorite lentil instead. My culinary compadre had already cooked up both the squash and the lentils, so all that was left was spicing and assembling.

The results? This is one easy dinner. Bake and scrape squash. Simmer lentils. Whip up a buttery spice mixture. Toss, garnish, and dig in! I think it would be a kid-friendly meal, too (not that I would know), as you can assemble these little nests if you so desire. Alternatively, you could mix the squash, spice mixture, and lentils all together for a more “complete” meal to serve to more sophisticated diners.


That’s all there is to it. As my triathlon training ramps down to base-building and my need for calories drops, these are the kinds of veggie-heavy dinners I want on my plate. A low-glycemic index meal that contains protein (yogurt and lentils) and good fat (cashews), and is vegan/vegetarian to boot? Bring it on. The optional raisins add just a little in the way of quick carbs, and the warming spices kept me satisfied until bedtime. And now, with these darker, post-time change evenings, even life in Southern California has begun to feel a little cozier. Continue reading

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moroccan roasted vegetables

The markets and orchards of Central New York are swollen with colors more vibrant than a box of Lucky Charms. From procuring ingredients for my first salsa to picking apples with visiting family, all this bounty has kept me busy.

And then there was Saturday night’s excursion to the bedimmed Manlius Theater to see Food, Inc., a new documentary on the evils of the modern food industry. There were the expected appearances by Michael Pollan and his crony EricSchlosser of Fast Food Nation. There were undercover slaughterhouse cameras and dejected farmers. There was an appearance by the grieving mother of a 2-year-old poisoned by contaminated ground beef.

There were as many “corporation X refused to comment for this film” as there were new reasons to eat real food.

Check out this quote by Pollan on the backwardness of the modern food industry:

It’s a whole lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a raw potato or a carrot … the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming their newfound ‘whole-grain goodness’ to the rafters. Watch out for those health claims.

We have a warped system where Coke and Doritos are more affordable than the ingredients for a salad. We sit blindly by while a handful of corporations mess with our kitchens. I watch documentaries like King Corn and Food, Inc., and still it’s hard to say no sometimes to chicken wings. Ignorance may truly be bliss, but for me a daily commitment to  real, raw, unprocessed food brings a more continuous joy.

Take these delicious Moroccan roasted vegetables, an idea lifted from my old standby, the Moosewood New Classics. Plain old yam wrested from the earth, shiny purple eggplant and zucchini from a local farmer, red pepper and onion all tossed with lemon juice and the fire-colored spices of northern Africa. Easy as chopping, seasoning and baking, this saucy mix yields enough to last for a few days.

Better than the lack of additives and sweeteners was the simplicity of flavors. The original Happy Meal was never patented and is not sold along suburban byways. It’s right here, in our fields and on our plates.

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