Roast cauliflower with muhammara
While exploring lifestyle magazines for redecorating inspiration recently, I noticed that there are trends in taps, wallpapers and even in the style of windows, much as there are in clothes. In cooking, too, we get obsessed with ingredients that just a few years earlier were consigned to obscurity. Take the once-humble cauliflower: it wasn’t long ago that producers were lamenting how seldom people bought one, and now look – every chic restaurant worth its salt has cauliflower on the menu, from London and Manchester to Mexico City and New York.
To tell the truth, this unassuming vegetable is so adaptable, and so adept at taking on robust flavours, that you can dress it up any which way and guarantee great results. Roasted, the florets go dark and caramelised, and take on a rich sweetness, but they’re just as good shaved raw into salads for a crunchy, textural element that complements citrus and dried fruits incredibly well.
A case in point is a lovely dish we’ve been developing for a new opening in east London, in which roast cauliflower sits on a charred tomato sauce and is then dressed with a cashew-nut mole. It’s such an eye-opener, I reckon even the Aztecs and Zapotecs would have got down with this trend.
Whole roast cauliflower with muhammara
Muhammara is a gorgeous, crimson dip with origins in Aleppo, Syria. It can be processed into a hummus-like paste, but I much prefer a coarser texture. Serves two. ½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp thyme leaves
20g butter, at room temperature Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 medium cauliflower For the muhammara 3 red peppers (or 4 romano peppers) 100g walnuts
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped 1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground ½ tsp Turkish red pepper flakes (or other mild dried chilli)
100ml olive oil
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
30ml red-wine vinegar
Heat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8. Pierce the peppers a few times with the tip of a knife, then place on a baking tray and roast for 25-30 minutes, turning once, until slightly blackened and very soft. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling-film and leave to steam while they cool (this makes them easier to peel later).
Meanwhile, combine the paprika, thyme and butter, and season generously. Trim the cauliflower stem so it will sit flat, and pull back the leaves a little to expose the head. Rub the head all over with the paprika butter, then put the cauliflower in a casserole into which it fits snugly. Pour 75ml water into the bottom of the pan (not over the cauliflower, or you’ll wash off the butter), cover the pot and roast for 35-40 minutes. Take off the lid and roast for another 15 minutes, by which time the tip of a sharp knife should go in easily.
While the cauli is baking, make the muhammara. Remove and discard the pepper skins, stems and seeds. In a food processor, blitz the walnuts, garlic, salt, cumin and chilli to coarse crumbs, add the peppers and blitz briefly. Combine the oil, molasses and vinegar, then add to the mix in a steady stream with the motor still running. Don’t over-process, because you want some texture.
Cut the cauliflower in half vertically and serve on top of the muhammara with a green salad.
And for the rest of the week… Cauliflower, whether raw or roasted, loves bold flavours. In my most recent book, Home Cook, I shave raw florets into a salad of orange flesh, toasted buckwheat, carrots and olives, and top with a gutsy cumin and za’atar dressing, to make a filling salad that just happens to be meat- and dairy-free. One of the most popular current dishes at Wahaca is cauliflower cheese that’s had a husky makeover with the smoky, sultry touch of the chipotle chilli. Or just chop a whole head into florets and roast in butter, olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar (rub it all over) – that’s delicious with grilled sausages or halloumi.