Whether you’re cooking a family meal for four or a midweek dinner for one, traybake dinners are a brilliant option. They’re adaptable, you can throw all your ingredients in with minimal fuss and the oven does the hard work so you don’t have to. Plus, there’s never much washing up to do afterwards. Rukmini Iyer, author of best-selling cookbook, The Roasting Tin, is here to show you just how to adapt your traybake recipes using whatever you’ve got in the fridge.
Rukmini Iyer. Photography: Lara Messer
Grain + veg + protein: start with the basic formula
To my mind, the best sort of recipe is not only delicious, it should also work as a template for an infinite variety of others. There are many variations on the basic grain, veg and protein traybake, and once you’ve made this recipe for Roast Lamb With Apricots & Pearl Barley (below), you’ll see how easy it is to swap in other ingredients. Instead of pearl barley, you could use wild rice or spelt, or for quicker dishes, bulgur wheat or orzo. Add a vegetable – try squash, kale or cauliflower this winter – then top it off with whatever protein you fancy. Chicken breasts, duck and thick salmon steaks will cook in 25 to 30 minutes, and chicken thighs, thick-cut pork or lamb steaks in 45 minutes to an hour. Vegetarians can top things off with halloumi, or finish it, post-oven, with interesting cheeses.
In terms of flavourings, it’s a sort of mix and match game again, based on what I feel like, and what’s in the cupboard. Go Middle Eastern with ras-el-hanout or za’atar, and think about adding dates or apricots. For Indian it would be cumin, coriander and perhaps nigella seeds. For Italian it’d be rosemary, pesto, tapenade or sun-blush tomatoes. My default is South-East Asian with sesame oil, lime juice, fish sauce, chilli and ginger. Layer up your flavours in the tin, starting with the base grain, a good stock and some grated garlic. Scatter over an onion of some kind, like red or white, a shallot or spring onions, then top with your vegetables, protein and flavouring. Then it’s just a matter of popping some foil over your roasting tin and letting the oven do the work.
Think texture, colour and acidity
To really raise your traybake game, think about texture, colour and acidity. A handful of salted peanuts to an Asian or Indian-style dish, pine nuts to an Italian dish, or toasted hazelnuts on pretty much anything will add wonderful crunch and flavour. A handful of herbs, torn over at the last minute, will add colour and flavour. And most importantly, a judicious squeeze of lemon or lime juice will transform your dinner as effectively as a pinch of good sea salt. Use them in conjunction, and you’ll have the perfect traybake.
Roast Lamb With Apricots, Pistachios, Mint & Pearl Barley
Photography: Natalé Towell
The pearl barley takes on all the flavour from the slow cooked lamb and spices in this substantial dish, with the apricots bringing a balancing sweetness. It’s even better warmed through the next day. If you prefer, slice up the cooked lamb steaks and stir them through the pearl barley. Make sure to let them rest for 10 minutes after the dish comes out the oven.
– 4 lamb rump steaks (approx. 500g)
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 teaspoons ras el hanout
– sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
– 250g dried apricots
– 2 red onions, very thinly sliced
– 150g pearl barley, rinsed
– 350ml chicken stock
– 30g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
– a small handful of fresh mint, chopped
– ½ a lemon, juice only
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C fan/170°C/ gas 3. Rub the lamb steaks with the olive oil, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and half the garlic, and set aside.
2. In a roasting tin, mix together the dried apricots, red onions, remaining garlic, pearl barley and chicken stock. Place the spiced lamb steaks on top, cover the dish tightly with foil, then transfer to the oven and cook for 1 hour.
3. In the meantime, mix together the pistachios and mint. Once cooked, taste the pearl barley and season as required with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Scatter the pistachios and mint over the lamb and pearl barley just before serving.
Recipe from The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer, Square Peg at £16.99
For lamb steaks, pearl barley and all other ingredients delivered direct to your door, go to farmdrop.com.