Every week in the home where I was staying, we’d get together to have Sunday dinner together. To the songs on the radio, the señora and I would begin cooking about 6 p.m., creating a fine repast for all present.
When consulting with a young Venezuelan, he said he didn’t care what we prepared – as long as my vegetales a la paila was on the menu. This young man who had never liked eating vegetables before – shocked his mom with the photos of him sitting down to a heaping helping of my dish. She wanted the recipe.
I love oven-roasted vegies – but two things bother me about the recipe: the amount of time (and therefore fuel) it takes to make them, and the amount of fats used. Atop all that, I often don’t have an oven.
So, how can I get the same delicious flavor without an oven, without all the fat – while all the while saving a lot of energy?
The trick is in a heavy skillet. In Latin America, the paila is a perfect pan to use. It is a deep skillet, somewhat like a wok. If you’re in the northern world, a wok or a cast iron skillet will work just as well. Any of these will reach a temperature high enough to sear the vegetables to a toasty brown on the outside, yet perfectly cooked inside.
(Yes, you could use a regular skillet – but the results will be different.)
A Dish with a Million Variations
This recipe is one where you can allow your imagine to run wild, and adjust to whatever you might find in the local market. The day I prepared this version, I cleaned out the fridge of whatever needed to be used up: carrots, green beans, sweet peppers and mushrooms.
Some other great combos for Roasted Vegies are:
- Broccoli, cauliflower and carrot
- Green beans (cut on the bias or julienned / French cut), carrots and mushrooms
- Brussel sprouts (the smaller, the less bitter), carrots
As for what herbs to use – well, I like to let the vegetables “speak” for themselves. The combination of butter and onion in this manner of preparation brings out the natural sweetness in each vegetable. Though sometimes, I’ll toss in a bit of thyme and / or rosemary to complement the flavors of the vegetables.
But no matter what combination of vegies or herbs and spices you use, the basic recipe is the same: butter and olive (or other) oil and onions, plus salt and perhaps garlic.
Estimated cooking time: 15-20 minutes
For: Vegans, Vegetarians, Carnivores (as a side dish)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive or other oil
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
1 handful of green beans, cut into 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) pieces
1 large onion, cut into chunks
1 green pepper, cut into chunks
1 cup sliced mushrooms
salt (to taste)
Leaves of 1 short sprig of fresh rosemary, or a large pinch of dried leaves – optional
Cut all the vegetables and place on a large plate or other dish.
Heat a large paila or skillet until hot. Add the butter and oil; melt.
Add the carrots and stir. Cover the paila with a large enough lid. Uncover and stir occasionally.
When the carrots are just beginning to be tender, add the green beans. Cover and cook. After about five minutes, add the onion and green pepper. When these are tender, Add the mushrooms amd salt. Keep the paila covered, occasionally stirring, until vegetables are tender.
- Have all the vegetables cut before beginning to cook. You can add each ingredient at just the right time, and not accidently burn the food.
- Butter can be difficult to find in tropical climates. In my opinion, margarine just doesn’t have the same flavor. I would rather use all oil than a margarine-oil combination.
- Covering the paila or skillet with a lid helps to cook the vegetables faster, and preserve flavors and nutrients.
- Add the vegetables according to how long each will take to cook: Carrots take the longest, then green beans, onions, green peppers, etc. Mushrooms take little time to cook.
- Green beans have a brighter flavor and cook quicker if they are julienned (French cut), as opposed to being cut on the bias (slant-cut).
- Use smashed garlic as opposed to minced garlic, as the flavor preserves better. You can keep the husk (skin) on, if you like.
- You may need to add a little bit of water from time to time to keep the vegetables from sticking and burning. Add just a little though, so the vegetables do not turn mushy!