Rock-star cauliflower with red pepper and tahini

Today my niece starts her postgraduate medicine degree. Though I know she’s really excited, I also imagine the prospect of lots of protective clothing and being in and out of GP practices and hospitals is, in these times, a little scary. And, after six months of not having to do very much, she will now be immensely busy. So I thought I would wish her well by finding her a recipe or two, ones that are simple and cheap and won’t tax her brain too much when it is busy learning how to save lives.

The first comes from John Gregory-Smith’s great book, Saffron in the Souks. I’ve been making this recipe for about a year and it seems perfect for a student. It also, I realise, happens to be vegan like her. But it is very much ‘just happens to be’; this isn’t complicated and doesn’t require any special skills (nut activation?!) or shopping.

Cauliflower is one of those ingredients that has, as Gregory-Smith puts it, become a bit of a rock star. Whereas once upon a time it only graced the British table under a layer of cheese sauce, these days, it’s everywhere. And rarely cooked in water. Which is a good thing… In this recipe it is roasted and served with a pepper, onion and tahini sauce, and dressed with coriander and pine nuts. If you don’t have coriander, sumac or pine nuts (the eagle-eyed among you will notice the green leaf above is rocket…) you can leave them out and it will still be lovely. As it is, this recipe will make enough for two for lunch, four as a side or, since it’s also delicious cold, enough for one post-study dinner and a packed lunch the next day. It can easily be doubled too. This one’s for you, Issy because you are very much a rock star x

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
olive oil
salt and pepper
chilli flakes

Shopping list
cauliflower (a medium one, so about 6-700g)
red pepper
red onion
tahini, 80g
lemon (you need the juice of half, so about 25ml; I’d also suggest using the zest as a garnish)
coriander leaves, a handful
sumac, ½ teaspoon (optional; I can’t tell you how irritating the new WP format is; it takes forever to find a ½ symbol…)
pine nuts, 15g (again, nice to have but not essential)

How to

1. Preheat the oven to 220ºC/200ºC/gas mark 7. Break up the cauliflower florets into small pieces and put them into a bowl. Add any small cauliflower leaves too, because they are delicious roasted. Add two tablespoons of olive oil, some salt and pepper then stir together to coat all the cauliflower in oil. Spread out on a baking tray and roast for about 30-35 minutes until charred and tender. Keep an eye on it, because since the florets won’t be equal sizes, some might char faster than others.

2. Meanwhile, deseed and destalk the pepper and cut it into finger-sized slices and peel and finely slice the red onion. Put another two tablespoons of oil into a frying pan and cook the onion and pepper for about 6-8 minutes. Add a splash of water (to help soften the pepper) and continue to cook until golden (again the size of the pieces will determine how long this takes but, probably between 12-20 minutes).

3. Mix the tahini with 65ml of water, the lemon juice and a pinch of salt until smooth then tip this into the pepper-onion mixture. Stir it in well, taste and add more salt and/or pepper as needed. Heat very gently to warm the sauce through and add a little more water if it splits to bring it back together.

4. Finally, spread the pepper-onion-tahini mixture in a dish/on a plate, cover with the roasted cauliflower, then garnish with what you have: a few chilli flakes, coriander leaves (parsley or rocket would work too), sumac, pine nuts and lemon zest.

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