Cauliflower with Magical Powers

October 10th, 2013 · 22 Comments · Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Some days I look at this screen and wonder how on earth I can spin a story out of thin air about a pork chop or a kabocha squash. And then some days, like today, I can’t believe how much I have to say about a head of cauliflower. So many different roads I can go with this, I’m not sure which one to take.

I could tell you about my brother-in-law, Nick, who is famous in our family for his habit of eating an entire head of cauliflower (raw, unadorned, stem and all) as soon as he walks in from work. But the guy deserves an entire post (character study?) all his own, so look for that one soon.

I could also tell you about my dinner last week downtown, and how I almost didn’t go because the day had been long and there was some babysitting drama and instead of getting on a train and a subway, then back home again, what I really wanted to do was just pick up the girls at soccer and not have to worry about someone else finding or not finding the field in the dark. Well, guess what? It turns out you do not need an advanced degree in astrophysics to drive at night and follow directions (insane, handwritten directions with lots of maps) and I was worried for no real reason. The little snag reminded me of a rule I used to live by, but haven’t been so great about following: When I have the chance of doing something or not doing something, I’m rarely going to regret getting my butt in gear and doing it…in partaking.

Especially when, on this particular evening, the partaking was happening with one of my more favorite dinner dates, Lia, at one of the more exciting restaurants in New York, Einat Admony’s Balaboosta on Mulberry Street. The name is Yiddish for “perfect housewife, wonderful mother” and also serves as the title for Einat’s gorgeous new cookbook geared towards home chefs…who aren’t necessarily perfect housewives or wonderful mothers. Her food is what I would call modern Mediterranean (Harissa-spiked hot wings anyone?) and I swear I could’ve eaten everything on the menu (and everything in the book). But Lia and I managed to narrow it down to six or seven small plates — including shrimp kataif, shredded kale and brussels sprouts, burrata, and a crispy cauliflower dish that was topped with pine nuts and currants and was, to be honest, mind-blowing, worth the commute in and of itself.

Lastly, what I could also tell you is that the following week when I pulled a head of cauliflower out of the CSA box, I found myself standing next to my daughter, who I felt like I hadn’t heard from in a while. I mean, I had heard about the math test, and I could see her working on her soccer juggling in the backyard, and I knew she was thinking about being a vampire for Halloween. But I hadn’t really heard from her, if you know what I mean. And it just seemed to be the exact right time for me to hand her the recipe for the Balaboosta cauliflower, teach her how to cut off the florets with a paring knife, shake up the vinagrette in a jam jar, and talk about some real stuff. On principle, I can’t get into the details on what the real stuff is these days, but let me just say that because of Einat’s beautiful little recipe — simple enough for a tween to help with, but complicated enough to keep her talking and standing next to me for a good 20 minutes — I’ll probably be relying on this recipe a lot in the next few years.

Cauliflower Everyone Loves 
I’m not the only one who finds this dish magical. Apparently, it’s one of Einat’s most-requested items on the menu. I cut back on the amount of oil called for (5 cups) in the book, but trust me the dish still lived up to its name. I served with a simple roast salmon and green salad. Serves 4 to 6; recipe from the beautiful Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love.

White Wine Vinaigrette

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper

Cauliflower

Canola oil, poured to about a half an inch high in a large, straight-sided skillet or (better) a Dutch oven
1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
1 cup all purpose flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Dried currants (optional)
Toasted pine nuts (optional)
Coarsely chopped parsley (optional)

1. Whisk together the vinegar, honey, and mustard. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk to emulsify. Add salt and pepper and set aside. (Or add all ingredients to a jam jar, seal tightly, hand to your kid, and have him or her shake it like crazy.)

2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add cauliflower and boil for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into an ice bath to stop the cooking. (Or just put it on a paper-towel lined plate, like I did.)

3. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a large resealable bag. Throw in the florets, seal, and shake until thoroughly coated.

4. Heat the oil in you large skillet or a Dutch Oven to medium-high. Working in small batches, carefully drop florets into the oil and fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel-lined serving bowl.

5. Remove paper towel and toss cauliflower with vinaigrette, currants, pine nuts, and parsley.

Excerpted from Balaboosta by Einat Admony (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2013. Photographs by Quentin Bacon.

 

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