Weeknight Vegetarian: A mix that perks up a salad

Marge Ely/Marge Ely - Roasted Carrot, Green Bean and Coconut Salad

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An interviewer asked me recently how I make vegetarian cooking appealing to carnivores. The first step, of course, is to use vegetables that are as fresh as possible — in season, preferably locally grown — so they have the most flavor. But also on the list is my frequent use of global spice blends: Middle Eastern za’atar, Chinese five-spice, Indian masalas and one of my more recent favorites, Egyptian dukkah.

Dukkah is actually a blend of spices and nuts, which allows it to play the part of a condiment, too. Traditionally, it’s used as a dip with olive oil and bread, but I most frequently find myself sprinkling it onto roasted vegetables: before they go in the oven if they’re going to be quick (or if I don't mind some serious toasting of the spice mix), or afterward if I want something a little fresher tasting.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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As with other spice mixes, you’ll find it in many varieties, using different nuts and even, in the case of my favorite version made by Boston-area chef Ana Sortun, with coconut flakes included.

There’s a recipe for Sortun’s version in her lovely 2006 book “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean,” but I picked up a batch from her bakery-shop Sofra in Cambridge, Mass., recently and have been plowing through it. She pairs it in her book (and restaurants) with a carrot puree, an amazing combination, so I often think of carrots when I pull it out of my pantry.

When the weather cooled off recently, I returned to roasting, and the last time I roasted carrots, I threw in some slim green beans for the last few minutes, then tossed them with a little dukkah, leftover rice and spinach leaves for a main-course salad. Large coconut flakes played off the coconut’s presence in the dukkah, which I also used to make the dressing.

It certainly wasn’t Egyptian, but then again, neither am I.

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