January 20, 2011

roasted cauliflower with cumin + tahini

I've been wracking my brain over what to say that might convince even the cauliflower-haters out there to try this recipe. I'm aware that cauliflower isn't the most popular of vegetables, but in my opinion the fault here in no way lies with the cauliflower. It has been wronged again and again: overboiled, oversteamed, served limp and watery in one of those generic 'mixed vegetable' side dishes. (And don't even get me started on frozen vegetables. I'd rather eat the cardboard.) You can probably tell by now that I've experienced less-than-well-prepared cauliflower myself, so if you're not a fan of the crucifer, I understand where you're coming from. But have you tried it roasted? If not, please promise you will try this recipe before condemning cauliflower to unloved vegetable purgatory for all eternity.

Roasting transforms cauliflower into an entirely different vegetable than the one you might have encountered before. The intense, dry heat of the oven turns the edges of the florets crisp and brown and their interiors tender and juicy; its flavor mellows, turning towards nutty and sweet. I can never resist munching a few pieces directly from the baking sheet, kissed merely with olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

Now, if you happen to drizzle a luscious tahini dressing over this already wondrous roasted cauliflower, one rich with the round, nutty, smoky flavor of cumin and a punch of heat from red chile, then you truly have something worthy of celebration. I draped some of the roasted cauliflower spears over steamed kale and collards, drizzled everything with the tahini mixture, and showered raisins and chopped almonds on top to add texture and sweetness. The combination hit all the right notes -- savory, sweet, and smoky, tender, chewy, crunchy, and creamy. 

: : : If your issues with cauliflower run particularly deep, maybe try starting with this buttery cauliflower puree. It's like mashed potatoes, only better. I dare you not to have seconds. : : :

roasted cauliflower with cumin and tahini dressing
Delectable over dark leafy greens, this would also be a good match for a whole grain such as brown rice, millet, or quinoa, or on its own as a side dish. Toast the cumin seeds in a heavy-bottomed skillet (I use cast-iron) for a few minutes until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring occasionally so they don't burn.

1 head of cauliflower, leaves and base removed, and cut into florets
Extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup tahini
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
raisins and roughly chopped almonds, to garnish

Preheat oven too 425 F.

Place the cauliflower florets in a large bowl and add a glug of olive oil (2 to 3 Tbsp), a big pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss well to coat the florets evenly. Spread the cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the florets are caramelized and tender when pierced with a knife, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the cauliflower is in the oven, combine the tahini, apple cider vinegar, cumin seeds, red chile flakes, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in a blender. Add 2 Tbsp of water, cover, and blend for a minute or two. If the dressing is too thick, gradually add more water (about a tablespoon at a time) until it reaches a pourable consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the dressing over the cauliflower and serve sprinkled with raisins and chopped almonds.


  1. Pretty radical comment about frozen vegetables!!!! :-)

  2. hi Char - it's true, I have strong feeling about them - though I would choose them over canned if those were my only options. My issue is mostly with the veggies that really get ruined by the process (like poor cauliflower and broccoli), because many people end up hating those vegetables based on their experience with the frozen versions.

    But, I should add, frozen corn kernels and peas can come in handy - if fact I'm making a calabaza squash soup with a corn relish this weekend and will be using frozen corn. An exception to every rule . . . :)

  3. Love your writing style! I am a fresh vegetable freak myself. I was raised on a farm where we grew a huge veggie garden every year. It was our job as kids to hoe and weed, but the best part was harvesting! There is nothing like crunching on a green bean, tomato, cucumber, or cauliflower just after being picked. If only we could have it that fresh and alive with nutrients all the time. I like the home canning methods as well as proper home freezing in order to enjoy veggies during the off-season. Love this recipe. I will try it this week.

  4. Hi, thanks for the kind words! Nothing compares to vegetables right from the garden.