It's a quiet time to reflect on God and spirituality. We stand still, exhaling into splendid solitude. I don't typically shout about religion from the rooftops like I do my cross stitch patterns or recipes. Vanity, my potty-mouth and an unparalleled addiction to red lipstick have followed me to operating rooms and they'll chase me to my grave. In my spiritual life, I've chosen a single path: a Good Guidebook.
I've recently started to read The Gospels with my husband. We purchased as a Christmas gift to ourselves a teaching Bible by Dr. Scott Hahn. It's a pleasure to read, unlike the ones found in hotel rooms. There are some great Gospel apps too. I used to be afraid of people who read the Bible, because often their actions didn't align with its teachings. Hypocrisy is nothing new. But I've also met good Christians who are usually the introspective and hidden ones. They trust God more than men. They calmly pray for grace in this troubled world. They're concerned with social justice issues. Their hearts are kind, mellow and open. Mother Teresa is a famous example of a person with spiritual energy that centered on the compassion of Christ, serving God and the poor. Her interior life was deep and very challenging. Her letters reveal this. Compassion is crystallized in The Gospels. Focusing on Christ's teachings is essential for our balance. Our energy is not spread out in different directions. I think that's important.
It's not always easy to read and develop a devotion to prayer. Lifting our hearts and minds to the Divine, with the many daily distractions, takes great willpower. But for me, it's a must. I walk my beagle on lonely beaches. I strive to live small and simply. Fasting from meat is often part of my spiritual journey . Taking better care of our bodies and souls is far-reaching. This narrow road leads to full and beautiful solitude where I can breathe and just be. I find much love and inner peace here...something I've been searching for my whole life.
I also find peace and joy in cooking. The kitchen is my comfort zone. This is a festive and filling vegetarian main course. Eating more plant-based meals doesn't have to be boring. As in Indian cuisine, potatoes are used as a vegetable here. They make this meal economical, satisfying and abundant. Fresh herbs, scallions and sweet bell peppers brighten everything up. Warm cumin and ginger bring in coziness.
I love to serve a big bowl of the za'atar spiced yogurt on the side. If you're vegan, make this tahini sauce, instead of the yogurt. Serve a bowl of the tahini sauce with this meal for drizzling. I like a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds on top, but almonds work too. A bowl of olives and dates round out this Moroccan inspired meal. Mint tea is also welcome.
Moroccan Roasted Vegetables With Toasted Sesame
& Herbed Couscous Pilaf RecipeServes 4-6 As A Main Course
If you're vegan, serve this meal with tahini sauce in place of the spiced yogurt.
Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture with a tart and nutty taste. It's delicious on everything from eggs to flatbread. You can find it many places these days, even online at Amazon. I look for blends without red pepper/hot pepper because I like to control the heat in my recipes.
I put a big bowl of plain thick yogurt on the table and generously sprinkle it with za'atar to accompany this meal. If you don't want to search for za'atar then a few dashes of salt, dried thyme and sesame seeds on the yogurt will work too.
You can bump up the protein in the dish by adding a can of rinsed and drained chickpeas to the roasted vegetables toward the end of cooking.
It's also nice served with fried eggs or hard boiled eggs.
Harissa is a spicy Moroccan condiment typically served with stews and couscous. If you don't want to search for it, some red chili flakes or sriracha will do just fine.
I prefer the soaking method when preparing couscous. The grains don't stick together, keeping it light and fluffy.
- 1 10-ounce package of couscous. I use Near East brand original plain couscous.
- 3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
- 6 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 12 mini sweet peppers, halved (or two red bell peppers, chopped)
- 2-3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- A handful of fresh dill or basil, chopped
- 3 scallions, diced
- 1/2-1 tablespoon of sesame seeds or a large handful of slivered almonds
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- Pinch of saffron (optional)
- Salt to taste. I use sea salt.
- Olive oil for cooking
Serving Suggestions: Greek yogurt or labne (Lebanese strained yogurt) sprinkled with za'atar, lemon or lime wedges, tahini sauce, harissa, sriracha or red chili flakes, drizzle of good olive oil, assorted olives, medjool dates, dried figs, mint tea
Preheat the oven to 425. Line a large baking tray with foil and drizzle with olive oil. Toss the vegetables and potatoes with more olive oil. Season well with salt. Arrange vegetables in a single layer and roast for about 40-45 minutes, stirring them around halfway through the cooking process. Once the vegetables and potatoes are done, take them out the oven and immediately toss them with the fresh ginger and ground cumin.
Meanwhile prepare the couscous with a pinch of saffron, according to the package directions or your prefered method of cooking. Toast the sesame seeds or sliced almonds in a dry skillet on medium heat until golden brown. Once the couscous is done, stir in some olive oil, the diced scallions, toasted sesame seeds and fresh dill. Season with salt to taste.
Serve the vegetables and potatoes over the couscous pilaf with a side of thick Greek yogurt or labne. I love it with za'atar-spiced yogurt and harissa.