Sometimes it’s fun to mix things up by eating a bunch of little appetizers instead of a big meal all at once. Especially on Friday nights when we’re left with odds and ends in our refrigerator and we can be a little more leisurely about eating, we’ll just rustle up some small courses and nibble until we’re feeling full. Maybe some dip and veggies, some creatively re-purposed leftovers, a few dumplings I’ve stashed away in the freezer, perhaps a few crostini, a little pasta or some international fried rice. Back in our pre-kids era we used to do this kind of random, roving eating often, snacking our way through our Netflix pile or a Sopranos-watching marathon and it’s kind of nostalgic to bring the tradition back.
This David Chang cauliflower recipe was the highlight of one of our recent Friday night family nibble-fests. I’ve never been to his restaurant Ssäm Bar, but I hear this is a popular item on the menu and he says it works well with brussels sprouts in case cauliflower is not your thing. It’s basically just riff on a basic crispy, roasted cauliflower but takes thing up a notch with a killer combo of savory, tangy, bright flavors tossed together just before serving. I’ll admit that I had intended this mostly for the adults thinking the fish sauce and togarashi (Japanese chili flakes) might put the kids off, but at least one little guy ended up chowing down. Simran and I are both big proponents of not dumbing down food for kids, but sometimes I find myself censoring dishes and flavors without even really thinking about it. I’m embarrassed to say that at first I didn’t even offer any of this cauliflower to the boys but ended up with a great reminder that with kids you just never know.
David Chang’s Roasted Cauliflower with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
David Chang’s original recipe (you can find it here at the Splendid Table) calls for fried cilantro leaves and a cheeky little garnish of togarashi rice krispies (krispies toasted in a dry pan and then tossed with togarashi). In this version I have kept the cilantro fresh and have substituted the crunch of the krispies with store-bought fried onions, the ones that come in big jars at the Asian supermarket.
- 1 head of cauliflower (cut into florets, washed and dried very well)
- Oil for coating the baking sheet
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 garlic clove (peeled, halved, crushed)
- 1 Thai bird’s eye chile (optional)
- juice of 1 lime
- togarashi (Japanese chili flakes)
- crispy onions
- Heat your oven to 450. Lightly coat a foil-covered baking sheet with oil and let it preheat as the oven warms.
- Place washed, well-dried cauliflower florets onto the hot baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes. Check the cauliflower and toss every 5-10 minutes until it is roasted to your liking. (We usually roast for a total of 30-35 minutes. It can burn so keep an eye on it.)
- While your cauliflower is roasting, wash and dry your herbs and make the vinaigrette. For the vinaigrette whisk fish sauce; minced cilantro stems; rice wine vinegar; lime juice; sugar; and halved, crushed garlic clove; and chiles (if using). Set aside.
- When your cauliflower is roasted, place it in a serving bowl. Fish out the garlic from the vinaigrette and discard it, then pour the vinaigrette over the hot cauliflower and toss well. Mince mint and cilantro leaves and sprinkle over the dressed cauliflower along with togarashi and crispy onions. Serve immediately.
Meet my family’s current obsession: crispy caramelized cauliflower. This cauliflower is altogether different from the steamed or raw stuff which I’ve never liked…. that can by soggy and chalky and just kind of generally unappealing. Drenched in a delicious sauce maybe, just maybe. But roasting it to the point that you think you might be overdoing it is altogether different. The high heat coaxes out a divine crunch around the edges, and a meltingly, mellow, nutty and slightly sweet interior. It’s soft enough to be a perfect finger food for a teething baby while having a satisfying salty, crispyness that reminds me of eating potato chips. And anything that reminds one of a potato chip is never a bad thing!
I admit that I stole this one from Simran who made this when I stopped by for lunch one day. Simran being Simran, makes hers with a blast of spice and sometimes a generous amount of red onion caramelized alongside. I hope she shares her version with all of us (hint hint) because it’s absolutely delicious. I tend to make mine more simply seasoned with salt (at the end, that’s the secret) and sometimes a sprinkling of garlic powder. If I want to add another vegetable, say carrots, I roast the vegetables on separate trays so we can make sure each is just how we like it. I know people go on about broccoli made this way but I’ve had mixed results. Some pieces are yummy and others go off the deep end and get dry and bitter — and it’s possible that burned broccoli might even be lower down on my list than raw cauliflower.
That my family eats and requests crispy cauliflower on a regular basis is the highest possible recommendation that I can give and a funny one given family doesn’t even like cauliflower. Luca and I have even been known to battle over who gets the last piece. Common decency usually deters me from swiping food from a sweet, innocent preschooler, but in this case I would have to give it some serious consideration.
If you’re on the fence about cauliflower you should try this and see if it does anything to change your mind. The other recipe you might try is Paul Bertoli’s cauliflower soup which is super velvety and absolutely genius in in its simplicity.
- Heat your oven to 450. Lightly coat the bottom of a baking dish or sheet pan with olive oil and pop it in to preheat with the oven.
- The fresher and more blemish-free the cauliflower, the better (but this will work with that head of cauliflower that got lost in your vegetable drawer too). Separate the florets and get rid of the tough core. I like to slice medium to large florets in halves or thirds because a flat edge means more contact with the roasting pan and more caramelization. Wash and dry the pieces well. Drying the cauliflower is critical to achieving maximum crispyness, so take the time to really pat it down. Resist your urge to season it now. Salt draws out the moisture and will inhibit caramelization so wait until the end.
- When your oven is hot, pop the cauliflower into the pan. Hopefully you will hear a little sizzle as it hits the hot surface. Give the top of the cauliflower a light drizzle of olive oil and then let it do it’s magic.
- Let it roast for 25 minutes and then check it every 5-10 minutes, tossing a few times until it’s deeply golden around the edges and even dark brown in some places. The cauliflower wont dry out, so you can give it much more color than a lot of other vegetables.
- When it’s gorgeously browned, season with salt (garlic powder if you like) and toss. Eat right away. While good after it has cooled and even leftover, it loses it’s magical crispiness pretty quickly.
You might also like: Paul Bertoli’s Genius Cauliflower Soup, Easy One Pot Meal: Chicken and Cauliflower, Jumping on the Crispy Kale Bandwagon, Sweet Potato Chips
Our family has been on a quest to include more vegetables and whole grains in our diet. As we’ve gone down this path, I’ve realized that it helps to mix it up and go beyond our standby salads and steamed/stir fried vegetables. So we often have a simple pureed soup as a starter or side to our meal. What’s nice is that you can make a soup like this over the weekend or on an evening when you have a bit more time and you’ve got a readymade vegetable course for a busy night. Smooth, pureed soups are also baby-friendly which is another bonus.
Genius Cauliflower Soup
One of the pureed soups I make most often is this ingeniously simple cauliflower soup from one of my absolute favorite cookbooks “Cooking By Hand” by Paul Bertoli. Cauliflower is one of those things I’ve noticed a lot of people actively dislike, but stay with me here…. even if you’re not a fan, try this one! It might just change your mind. In the preface to this recipe, Paul Bertoli himself admits to not liking cauliflower, but enjoys this soup because it brings out the vegetable’s finest qualities. I agree. When prepared this way, cauliflower has an incredibly silky, velvety texture. You would swear that this soup was cream-based.
With only 2 ingredients (cauliflower and onion), it couldn’t be easier to make and or more versatile. It’s perfection as is, but you can also dress it up with condiments (crispy shallots, garlicky croutons, herbs, a drizzle of your finest olive oil, a pinch of spices), or use it as a sauce for a crispy fish or chicken fillet, even add it to other sauces where you want a little creaminess (mac and cheese). It’s a great dunk for a sandwich or a piece of garlic bread. So grab a head of cauliflower and an onion and give it a go!
(from “Cooking By Hand” by Paul Bertoli)
Ingredients: 1 Head of Cauliflower, 1 Onion, Water, Salt & Pepper
- Wash and trim one head of cauliflower and set aside.
- Saute one medium onion in a little olive oil in a large pot until translucent (about 5 minutes).
- Add the cauliflower to the pot along with 1/2 cup water. Cover tightly and let braise for 30 minutes (cauliflower should be tender by this point).
- Uncover the pot and add 4 1/2 cups water and simmer uncovered for another 20 minutes. Let cool.
- When cool enough, puree in blender. Beware of hot foods in a blender — they can explode on you!
- When ready to serve, warm through and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of good quality olive oil.
Cauliflower is a tough vegetable to like. I wasn’t a huge fan myself until I discovered simple roasted cauliflower, as in the recipe below, or cauliflower and potatoes roasted with some spices (cumin, coriander & chilli powder). I have Ria “more interested” in cauliflower since I told her that it is a flower that you can eat. She’s is not fully convinced but I keep trying to talk it up. For now, I mash the cauliflower below with some rice and yogurt and serve the chicken cut up in bite size pieces on top and she’ll gobble it up after school when she is starving. It’s pretty amazing how finickiness goes down the hungrier they are! I am not into “hiding” vegetables but sometimes a parent has to do what a parent has to do!
I am also looking forward to trying Cauliflower Cheese by Food-4-Tots – it looks delicious and I think mixed with some macaroni it could be a kiddie hit.
Chicken with Cauliflower (adapted from Everyday Food)
I modified the recipe slightly by sprinkling some cumin powder and a pinch of chllli flakes on the cauliflower before adding it to the pan. Also, if you like “crunchier” cauliflower don’t salt it till the cooking it done. The salt draws out the water and makes the cauliflower mushy. Which if you are mashing it for the kids is not a terrible thing.
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (6 to 8 ounces each)
- 1 head cauliflower (about 1 pound), cut into large florets
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed (optional)
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Season chicken with coarse salt and ground pepper. Cook chicken, skin side down, until skin is browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip chicken and cook until browned, about 3 minutes.
- Place cauliflower around chicken, turning to coat in pan juices; season with salt and pepper. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until chicken is cooked through and cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in parsley, vinegar, and capers (if using).
Like me, you probably have a long list of recipes on your “gotta try” list, and like most families we usually find ourselves relying on a short list of quick, “go-to” recipes to get us through the weekday rush. Meanwhile, that list keeps getting longer… Here are three tasty-sounding recipes that have been lingering on my mind for quite a while. I’ll make sure to report back when I’ve had the chance to try them. What’s on your list??
Gobi Manchurian (Cauliflower Fritters with a Spicy Sauce) from eCurry. Indian-Chinese fusion = yum! I never heard of Manchurian sauce until coming across this recipe, but I am intrigued. According to Wikipedia: “It is said to have been invented in 1975 by Nelson Wang; Wang described his invention process as starting from the basic ingredients of an Indian dish, namely chopped garlic, ginger, and green chilis, but next, instead of adding garam masala, he put in soy sauce instead.” Do any of you have experience eating or making it? I’ll bet with a little tinkering we can make this one at least reasonably kid-friendly.
Lemon Poppyseed Olive Oil Muffins from In Jennie’s Kitchen. There’s something about the combination of lemons and olive oil in a muffin that just sounds utterly divine, don’t you think?We’ve been watching the lemons on our deck inch towards ripeness and I’m bookmarking this recipe just for them.
Shakshuka from Smitten Kitchen. Aside from having an awesome name, Shakshuka is an Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. My kind of brunch! My son loves eggs and we all love having breakfast for dinner — so this one has definite possibilities.
What’s on your “gotta try” list?