When you’re younger, and your brain is busying itself with all of the learning and absorbing and soaking up of life’s information, somewhere along the line, people will inevitably tell you exactly how you’re supposed to eat in order to live your best life. You will be shown a towering pyramid of food, a pie (chart) of dietary percentages, statistics justifying all of the rules and myriad food-related edicts … and you might even be given a fun rhyming song to sing that espouses the praises of a healthy, balanced diet.
At the ripe age of 11, on one nearly forgettable, almost ordinary school day, I clearly recall sitting in health class beside a “well-balanced” plate of plastic food and a very enthused teacher who was pretending to eat it. Things get a little awkward when a sizable gathering of prepubescent boys and girls stares in collective wonder at the grownup who is moaning with delight over how delicious her fake apple is. “Mmmm hmmm!” She then began to sing about the rule of three. “A veggie, a protein and a serving of grains is how to best nourish your growing brains!”
Mmmm hmmm. Perhaps there are better ways to get us to eat right? Aren’t we a little old for this? I thought to myself, feet scuffling uncomfortably across the floor.
I remember sitting at my small, faux wooden school desk, just counting down the minutes until health class ended so I could go each actual food with my friends at lunch. I remember wondering how old those plasticine pieces of fruit and vegetables were and how long they’d been teaching dietary education that way. Wait, did she just lick that fake corn cob?! But to be fair, I also recall feeling a particular fondness for the plastic purple grapes and thinking that they actually did look sort of delicious.
I’ve come a long way since my days at that little wooden desk with those pretend fruits and veggies, and I’d like to think that I am capable of both creating a balanced meal AND encouraging people to eat it without having to rely on any gimmicks. My go-to tactic for creating a special, enticing meal – no matter what type of food is being served – is something called: The Rule of Four.
It is not pretend. It is not a drill. And there is no singing involved.
One of my favorite food and entertaining authorities of all time is the great Lee Bailey. His long list of wonderful, Southern-influenced cookbooks are among my very favorite and, while many might not be quite as familiar with his name, he is often heralded as the original entertaining and lifestyle guru (we’re talking pre-Martha Stewart here). Working as both recipe developer and photographer, there was just something special about the effortless, fuss-free, and unpretentious way he captured food and dining scenes in his books. His work still inspires me daily.
One piece of advice I remember reading of his, of which I was recently reminded thanks to Julia Turshen, was the notion of The Rule of Four (capitalized for impact and importance). In addition to the ole’ reliable veggie, protein, and grains on your plate, Bailey believed that a meal was truly complete – and much more enticing – if there was a fourth element to help draw people in. A small jar of pickles. A really great sauce. A freshly baked loaf of bread. A special salad to round out the meal … You get the idea.
I’m taking my cues from Bailey with my recipe this week, and incorporating an extra special (and extra delicious) North African chermoula sauce into a very traditional French recipe: the tian. The addition of this simple, quick, and exotic sauce instantly manages to elevate the dish a bit, making it seem a little more special.
For this recipe, I’ve partnered with
Thrive Algae Oil to bring you guys a simple, healthy summer dish that highlights this fantastic new product. Prior to working on this post, I was unfamiliar with algae oil, and that is largely due to its newness on the market. Thrive has harnessed the goodness of algae, one of the planet’s most sustainable food sources, to create this versatile cooking oil with the highest level of heat-stable good fats (it’s been deemed the best oil for your heart, in fact) and I think you’ll find it as appealing as I do. Its high smoke point allows you to sear, sauté, fry, and grill to your heart’s content (as we will do in this tian recipe) and its neutral taste makes it appropriate for just about any application. I call upon Thrive Algae Oil for both the quick-sautéing of the veggies in this recipe, as well as in the chermoula sauce that gets poured down over top and served alongside for bread dipping – and it works beautifully in both. Plus, now I can easily get Thrive Algae Oil at my local Earth Fare in Indianapolis! Check the store locator to find the one nearest you.
If you’re unfamiliar, a tian is a simple, no-frills vegetable dish that hails from the Provençal region of France (you might have seen it in the movie Ratatouille). Perfectly highlighting the season’s best produce, a tian is an easy way to feed a crowd, and one of my favorite ways to use up veggie odds and ends in my fridge. A summery casserole of sorts, the veggies in a tian are softened quickly on the stovetop, arranged in an ovenproof dish atop some fresh tomato sauce, topped with breadcrumbs or cheese (if desired), and then baked for a spell until bubbly and crusty. Nothing not to like there, right? But rather than use the traditional tomato sauce this time, I swap in a bright, fresh chermoula.
Chermoula is essentially a North African condiment that is similar to an Italian pesto, an Indian green chutney, and an Argentinian chimichurri, and it’s packed with herbs, garlic, citrus, and FLAVOR. While you typically see it served with fish and meats, I find that a drizzle of punchy chermoula is a fantastic way to really make vegetables pop – to transform them into the show-stealers on the table. Any leftovers are fantastic with eggs or even swirled into a little mayonnaise or sour cream for a great sandwich spread or salad dressing. Along with tahini sauce, pesto, and usually a homemade salad dressing, this is another “permanent” sauce that tends to take up residence in my refrigerator with regularity.
Summer Vegetable Tian with Chermoula
A baked Provençal-style summer vegetable medley with green chermoula sauce. This recipe serves 4 – 6 people as a side dish.
for the tian (adapted from Serious Eats):
About 1/3 cup Thrive Algae Oil, divided (you’ll use this to cook the veggies in batches)
3/4 lb. zucchini (about 2 medium), ends trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick
1 Tbsp Herbs de Provence
3/4 lb. yellow summer squash (about 2 medium), ends trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick
3/4 lb. Japanese eggplant (about 2), ends trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick
One russet potato, thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick, and then halved
Four Roma tomatoes
1 – 1.5 cups fresh or store-bought breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp melted butter
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the algae oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, add the zucchini, season lightly with salt and a pinch of herbs de Provence, and cook, turning, until just tender and lightly browned in spots; about 4 minutes total per batch. Add more oil as needed to prevent the an from drying out, and adjust the heat as needed throughout to maintain a very hot, but not heavily smoking, pan. Transfer each batch to a baking sheet then transfer cooled slices to a second baking sheet or plate. Repeat with remaining zucchini, squash, eggplant, and potatoes (these will take about twice as long to soften as the squash and eggplant), until all vegetables are lightly browned.
In an earthenware, ceramic, or glass baking dish – or a cast iron pan – spoon just enough chermoula to cover bottom of dish in a thin, even layer (see easy chermoula recipe below). Arrange the sautéed veggie slices and the fresh Roma tomatoes in an alternating layered pattern (however you like, really) on top of the sauce until the whole dish is filled. Drizzle a thin layer of chermoula all over the top of the vegetables; reserving the remaining sauce for dipping, extra drizzling … and everything else you can imagine.
At this point, if you want to add breadcrumbs, you can add a thin layer of seasoned fresh or store-bought breadcrumbs to the top of the vegetables (about 1 – 1.5 cups worth) that have been tossed with a bit of melted butter to help with browning.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 450°F. Bake until your tian is fully heated through and lightly browned on top, about 15 minutes. Top with grated parmesan cheese, if desired, and serve.
for the chermoula (adapted from Epicurious):
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves (just 1 if they’re really big)
3/4 cup Thrive® Algae Oil
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems
1 cup (packed) parsley leaves with tender stems
1/2 cup (packed) mint leaves
To make the chermoula, begin by toasting the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant, about 4 – 5 minutes. Transfer the toasted seeds to a blender along with the remaining chermoula ingredients, and blend until very smooth. set aside until use.