For this round of the Platinum Chef Challenge, the ingredients were butternut squash, cumin, chickpeas, vanilla, and barley. Some people might think I picked the ingredients with a dish already in mind, or that I am biased towards my favorites… but I promise, this was a challenge for me too. I have never bought barley before, so that was completely new! I also wasn’t sure at all what to do with the vanilla. I contemplated making a dessert using butternut squash as I would pumpkin puree, and that would easily incorporate vanilla. However, I decided to find a way to get all the ingredients onto one plate at a single time.
I first felt that I needed to pick a meat or fish to be my “main ingredient” – something to tie all the flavors around. I went with salmon. I then decided that my salmon needed a crust – I first thought grated butternut squash, which I still might try sometime, but ultimately went with roasted chickpeas, which I seasoned with a bounty of fragrant goodies, including cumin of course. For the side dish (or, under-dish in this case – is that a term?) I went with a lightly spiced barley risotto with butternut squash. The squash was roasted with vanilla and honey. To round out the meal I made a side of peas with parsley – neither are Platinum Chef ingredients in this round, but it brought that necessary green to the plate.
Overall, we were really pleased with this meal. The roasted chickpeas made a fantastic crust- very crunchy and flavorful, and I imagine with would be great with chicken as well. Of course, this is a healthy alternative to breadcrumbs. Also, the roasted chickpeas are great to munch on. The spices all worked really well together, but I’m not quite sure I could taste the vanilla in the squash. The barley risotto was certainly warm and mellow compared to the spicy crusted salmon, which is what I was going for, and I think the vanilla provided some of that warmth.
1 can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3tsp seasonings, your choice – I used cumin, saffron, cinnamon, cayenne and salt
Preheat oven to 375F. Roast chickpeas for about 40 minutes, shaking pan a few times throughout. Heat oil over medium heat and stir in seasonings. Toss chickpeas in seasonings and return to pan. Increase heat to 450F. Roast for another 5-10 minutes, until crunchy.
Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a broiler pan or cooling rack set on top of a baking sheet, coated with nonstick cooking spray. Grind roasted chickpeas in a food processor (I used 1/2 cup for 3 salmon filets, 4-6oz each). Place crumbs on a plate. Lightly beat an egg with a bit of water. Dip filets first in egg, then in crumbs, and gently set on top of rack. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until opaque in the center.
Toss peeled, cubed butternut squash with a bit of vanilla, olive oil, and salt. Roast at 400F for about 30-40 minutes, until tender, tossing a few times throughout. For the last 10 minutes, drizzle squash with a bit of honey and toss around.
This is made in the same manner as traditional risotto with arborio rice – it’s a slow cooking process during which you add warmed broth in small portions, letting each bit absorb before adding the next. I needed about 4x as much broth as dry barley, and it took about 40-50 minutes. I began by sauteing some minced onion in a little butter until soft, then added the barley and let it toast up for a few minutes. I then started my broth additions, stirring often. You can tell when it is time to add more broth when you scrape the bottom of the pan and the creates a path, in other words, you can see the pan. I seasoned the barley risotto with a bit of cinnamon, salt, and saffron. When it was just about done, I stirred in a few tablespoons of pecorino romano and gently folded in the roasted squash.