Once upon a time, some people pitied the poor cauliflower. With its pale appearance, this seemingly bland, once-humble cruciferous vegetable, traditionally served boiled and plain, suffered in the shadow of more colourful, more upbeat food items. Not anymore.
In recent years, its modest status has changed, with chefs preparing it in new creative ways as part of a trend to greater consumption of plant-based, low-carb food. With greater appreciation for its versatility in cooking, cauliflower has risen in popularity as people increasingly use it as a flour alternative in pizza crusts, breads, muffins and other baked goods and as a substitute for rice.
Demand for cauliflower has grown also due to increased awareness of its health benefits. An excellent source of Vitamins C, K and B6, it’s believed to reduce the risk of cancer thanks to its antioxidant properties and high fiber content. Dubbed the “new kale” by some food journalists in talking about “cauliflower power,” this once overlooked vegetable now enjoys a high profile.
For my part, I love cauliflower, and not just for its nutritional value. Unlike some people, I’ve always liked its look that comes from the shape and texture of its main body, and the green leaves around it. When I was a child growing up in Jerusalem, my mother often took me to the city’s fabled Machane Yehuda food market where I Iearned from her how to pick the best cauliflower. Ever since, I’ve been a big fan of the sometimes misunderstood cauliflower, which can be cooked in many ways.
Despite its simple list of ingredients, roasted cauliflower figures prominently in our Friday night dinners and special occasions where it’s always well received. I place it on a round plate, put it in the middle of the table and then I cut the roasted cauliflower as if it were a cake.
Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani is credited with introducing roasted cauliflower to North American diners about 15 years ago and since then many prominent chefs have added it to their menus, earning it an almost exalted status. For my part, I created my own version, using za’atar, silan, parsley, sumac and tahini, sometimes also adding pomegranate seeds.
I’m happy to share with you my own interpretation, inspired by my mother, Sima Sitton, and Eyal Shani.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Vegetarian or vegan
Baking sheet, pot, frying pan, cake plate
1 large head of cauliflower
3 tablespoons za’atar
1⁄3 cup homemade tahini (see recipe below)
5 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon silan (date syrup)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1½ tablespoons sumac
1 tablespoon salt
1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
– Preheat oven to 380 F
– Line baking sheet with parchment paper
– Fill completely large pot with water
– Bring water to boil
– Add 1 tablespoon salt
– Add cauliflower and boil for 8-9 minutes
– Make sure head of cauliflower faces bottom of pot so it will fully absorb salty water
– In meantime, place pine nuts in dry frying pan (with no oil)
– Turn heat to medium-low and stir-fry until color of pine nuts is golden (being careful as they can burn easily). Set aside and let cool.
– Remove cauliflower very carefully so it doesn’t break apart and place on baking sheet
– Apply olive oil and sprinkle za’atar and one tablespoon of sumuc on the entire cauliflower to cover it evenly
– Bake for 18-20 minutes until cauliflower is golden. (Make sure top of it doesn’t
– Place it on a cake plate
– Drizzle with a half-table spoon of sumac, along with tahini, chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves and then apply silan carefully
– Spread roasted pine nuts around the cauliflower.
– Can be served at room temperature
– Perfect side dish with Middle Eastern meatballs (Kofta) or chicken sofrito or roasted
salmon with za’atar
– Or as a main course.
– For an extra punch, garnish with pomegranate seeds
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1/2 cup of raw tahini
1/4 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
Directions for the Tahini
– In a large bowl, mix the tahini, water, garlic and lemon juice
– Keep mixing until the mixture is very smooth
– Taste and adjust as you may need more water or lemon