By Michael A. Gardiner
The hottest days of the year in San Diego are often those of late August and early September. And while grilling is rarely a bad decision in San Diego any time of year there’s something about those hottest of days that doesn’t cry out for a slab of meat.
While I’m definitely not a vegan, I love a good vegan dish. What I look for is a celebration of vegetables and what can be done with them, not processed meat substitutes designed to be meat except for the fact they’re not meat. This dish is all about the vegetables appearing in every state: raw, cooked, pickled, and fermented. There’s no reason to miss meat and not because anything tastes like meat but because there’s so much else to hold one’s interest.
Of those supporting players the spice blend is the most important. Baharat is Arabic for “spices,” and the exotic, aromatic, savory blend by that name has become one of the most important in Israel. Using it here helps underline the meatiness of the cauliflower.
As I was developing this recipe, I knew I wanted to cook the cauliflower whole, not in florets. The challenge, though, was figuring out how to cook it evenly so that the stem would be as edibly delicious as the tips of the florets. I found the answer in a place I should have expected it: the New York outpost (at the Chelsea Market) of one of my favorite Tel Aviv restaurants: Miznon. I ordered one of their famous roast cauliflower dishes and was pretty sure I knew how they did it. The first dish I made when I got home was this one. It worked!
For the Roast Cauliflower
1 small head cauliflower (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt (plus more for boiling the cauliflower)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Baharat Spice Blend (recipe below)
For the Pumpkin Seed Sauce
1/3 cup green pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 Persian cucumber, chopped
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon white (shiro) miso
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
For the Accompaniment
Pickled Red Cabbage (page recipe below)
To make the roast cauliflower
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Trim the base of the cauliflower just enough so that it can stand upright. If possible, try to keep some of the leaves at the base of the cauliflower. They look cool.
- Pour enough water into a medium pot (just large enough to fit the cauliflower head with a bit of room to spare) so that it comes 1 inch up the sides (about 1 quart of water). Add salt and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat.
- Carefully stand the cauliflower head in the pot (stem-side down) and cover. Steam until the florets are just barely tender and the cauliflower is no longer pearly white in color, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Remove the cauliflower from the pot using a metal spoon and set aside. Let the cauliflower cool for about 10 minutes.
- While the cauliflower is cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, Baharat spice blend, and salt. Spoon the spice oil over the cauliflower and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and roast until golden brown all over (and some bits are slightly charred), 20 to 30 minutes.
To make the pumpkin seed sauce
- While the cauliflower is roasting, combine the pepitas, vinegar, lime juice, onion powder, salt, garlic, cucumber, nutritional yeast, miso, pepper to taste, parsley, and 1/4 cup water in the bowl of a high-speed blender or food processor and, starting on low (and gradually increasing), blend until it’s a completely smooth purée.
- Taste the resulting sauce for seasoning and adjust accordingly with lime juice or salt.
- Pour a pool of the pumpkin seed sauce in the bottom of a wide, shallow bowl.
- Place the whole roast cauliflower head in the bowl and top with the pickled cabbage.
Baharat Spice Blend
Makes about 1/2 cup
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons salt
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
Pickled Red Cabbage
Makes about 1 quart
1 1/2 pounds red cabbage (about ½ small head), thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 dried árbol chiles
6 allspice berries
12 coriander seeds
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Place the cabbage in a large heatproof bowl.
- Combine the garlic, chiles, allspice, coriander seeds, vinegars, brown sugar, and 1 cup water in a medium pot and bring to boil over high heat.
- Pour the mixture over the cabbage and stir. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.
- The pickles will keep refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 1 week.