Once, many years ago, a fellow food writer sidled up to me and asked: “I don’t really cook with spices, do you?” he said. “I just like everything to taste fresh.”
I couldn’t have disagreed more. Not only do I adore cooking with spices, but I find them key to adding layers of flavor to vegetables, to unlocking the secrets of dishes from around the world, to getting out of almost any cooking rut. Spices, I said, can make anything taste more, not less, fresh.
If Bryant Terry had been beside me, I bet he would have made the same arguments and probably many more. The author of the stunning new book “Vegetable Kingdom” (Ten Speed Press, 2020), Terry is an unabashed champion of bold spices and spice blends. The seasonings chapter at the end of his book - with recipes for za’atar, dukkah, Creole seasoning, berbere and more - is alone worth the price.
Spices are not worth anything if you don’t know how to apply them, of course. Terry sprinkles cumin seeds on oven-roasted baby beets, playing up the vegetable’s earthiness. He stirs a pinch of ground cinnamon into the aromatic base of a tomato sauce for mushroom-stuffed cabbage. And he dusts chickpeas in blackened seasoning, the same type of blend Paul Prudhomme used to invent blackened redfish and turn it into a Cajun classic.
As a self-confessed chickpea obsessive, the latter treatment hooked me. Terry doesn’t actually blacken the chickpeas (so no need to open the windows or turn off the smoke alarms) but tosses them in the seasoning after they’re roasted. When they’re combined in this spinach salad with a tangy, creamy herb dressing and roasted bell peppers, the chickpeas sing a resounding bass note.
They’re so good that the second time I made the recipe, I doubled the garbanzos: I wanted more in the salad, and I also knew that I would not be able to resist eating some out of hand before I even managed to dress, toss and serve it.
SPINACH SALAD WITH BLACKENED CHICKPEAS
Active: 20 minutes | Total: 1 hour 10 minutes
4 to 6 servings
The chickpeas, tossed in blackened seasoning, are the star of this salad. In his cookbook, Bryant Terry includes a recipe for making your own blackened seasoning, but a store-bought version works well, too.
Two (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added chickpeas, drained, rinsed and thoroughly patted dry
3/4 cup (6 ounces) silken tofu
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill, plus dill fronds for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, divided, or more to taste (may substitute black pepper)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons safflower or another neutral oil, divided
1 tablespoon blackened seasoning (such as Zatarain’s, Paul Prudhomme or Old Bay)
12 ounces fresh spinach, torn into bite-size pieces
2 whole jarred roasted red peppers, drained and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (from one 16-ounce jar)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, for garnish
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Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Let the chickpeas air-dry on a plate for 10 to 20 minutes while you prepare the dressing.
In a blender, combine the tofu, shallot, lemon juice, dill, parsley, mustard, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Puree until creamy, then taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
When the chickpeas are dry, transfer them to a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon oil and toss to combine. Spread the chickpeas in an even layer on the baking sheet. Bake, shaking the pan every 15 minutes, for about 45 minutes, until browned and starting to turn crispy.
Immediately return the chickpeas to the bowl you had used earlier, drizzle with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil, and sprinkle with the blackened seasoning. Toss to combine, transfer back to the baking sheet and let cool for at least 15 minutes. Taste, and add salt if desired.
In a salad bowl, combine the spinach and roasted bell peppers. Stir the dressing a few times and lightly dress the vegetables. Add the chickpeas, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and lightly drizzle with the dressing. Garnish with the lemon zest and dill fronds and serve.
Nutrition (based on 6 servings) | Calories: 140; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: .5 g; Trans Fat: 0 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.5 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 3.5 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 660 mg; Carbohydrates: 16 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugars: 2 g; Protein: 7 g.
Source: Adapted from “Vegetable Kingdom” by Bryant Terry (Ten Speed Press, 2020)