This winter, I’ve been warming my home with the help of the oven. If your city kitchen is as cubicle-sized as mine, you might have noticed that things get pretty toasty very quickly every time it gets fired up. Suddenly, your hair is clinging to your brow and for a moment you mistake the sizzling sounds heard from the oven for your own sweat. In this hotboxed environment, I concocted a dressing for the root vegetables that were instead making that noise — at quite a high temp of 425 degrees. I didn’t know what I was doing, really, but in the end it all just made sense.
If roasted winter root vegetables sound like an unlikely pairing for a Japanese-inspired dressing, think again. Hardy roots are a staple of Japanese cuisine — like gobo or Burdock root and daikon radish — found pickled, braised, marinated or simply dropped into soups. It was that juxtaposition of savory and sweet that brought me to the miso paste in my fridge. Only, instead of adding sugar to this dressing (like you might taste in the Japanese-American restaurant iceberg salad staple), I left it pungent and incredibly sour from rice vinegar. The roots, caramelized until twigs of candy, would constitute the sweetness alone.
Shallots played a handy role in adding freshness and texture. Normally, I would have thought to add a bit of chopped scallion to the mix, but since I didn’t have any shoots (and in keeping with the winter produce), I finely chopped a tiny lavender-blushed bulb. These added juicy bursts to every bite, contrasting with the mushy centers of the roasted roots and their crisped skins.
I went with a small assortment of only carrots, parsnips and some rutabaga that were picked up a different weekend each at the farmers market. Roots take a long time to go bad in the fridge, so it’s easy to wind up with a medley. Other additions you could just as easily trade in here? Sweet potatoes, turnips, celery root, parsnip root and radishes — and how about gobo if you chance upon that?
I kept all the skins on the roots after a good scrub, because they’re great when roasted. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (Then again, I also generally keep skins on carrots when dicing them for a soup.) Sure, it’s not the same as a roasted chicken’s crisped skin, but a root vegetable’s skin does make for a nice little crust if you allow it to, and it’ll look great as well. Exception goes to the black radish, which I wrestled with plenty last year.
Keep your chunks of roots uniform: if going for cubes, go all-out for cubes with each vegetable. If going for spears, as I did, go for all spears. This could get tricky with more spheric-shaped roots, such as turnips and those rutabagas, which I forged into wedges. Wedges are an option, too. Just keep the pieces similar in “body mass index” if you will, and check on them while roasting. You might need to remove the carrots before the rest (they’re usually less dense).
You don’t have to choose between a refreshing salad or a hearty root vegetable side dish with both elements of this dish. Roots have much more nutrients than iceberg lettuce, besides.
Roasted Root Vegetables with Miso Shallot Dressing
(makes 3-4 side-dish servings)
2 lbs assorted root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, celery root and radishes, scrubbed well
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
for the dressing:
2 tablespoons white (or shiro) miso paste
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons toasted (or Asian) sesame oil
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Halve or quarter the long root vegetables lengthwise, depending on their thicknesses (keep any tails intact). With more spheric roots, cut to wedges of about the same thicknesses as the long roots, so that they’ll cook evenly. Toss them all in the oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet so that no pieces are overlapping. Roast for 10 minutes, then remove to quickly and carefully turn the pieces with tongs. Roast another 5 minutes or so, or until the pieces are uniformly crisped and golden.
Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the dressing and whisk until thoroughly blended. Add a tad more water if the dressing is too thick for your preference, and taste, adding any additional dabs of miso paste, vinegar or sesame oil to your preference.
Transfer the roasted root vegetables to a serving dish and drizzle the dressing over.
(for 3-4 side servings)
2 lbs assorted root vegetables (mostly at around $2.50/lb): $5.00
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil: $0.25
2 tablespoons miso paste: $0.50
1 shallot: $0.25
4 tablespoons rice vinegar: $0.50
2 teaspoons sesame oil: $0.25
Three brownie points: Well what do we have here? A hearty vegetable side that’s actually low in fat and high in beneficial nutrients, and can be just as filling as potatoes (especially if you have starchier roots like parsnips)? That’s a win. Sure, you could always just serve the roasted roots as they are, before the miso shallot dressing. You’d still have all that fiber, folate, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and all the benefits that most root vegetables are well known for. But with the extra dressing of minimal fats and protein-rich miso paste? Bonus. It’s salty, however, so go easier on the salt when preparing your roots for the oven than you would normally do, when serving without a dressing.
Seven maple leaves: Yeah, it sounds a little exotic, but the only ingredients that actually were in this recipe were the miso paste, rice vinegar and sesame oil. These condiments keep a long time in your pantry or fridge, and a little goes a long way. You might think about sprucing up any seasonal veggie, like kale, cauliflower or snap peas, with something like this combination, too.