MINESTRONE

I didn’t grow up with many males in my life—twelve years in an all-girls’ school and no brother will do that to you—so it wasn’t until high school that I really began to build friendships with them.

Now, thankfully, there are these men in my life whom I love.  I mean, really, really love.  Men who can make me laugh with a one-line email, men who appreciate the noise my high heels make on pavement, men who care deeply for the people in their life, who watch “The West Wing” on DVD and keep Lincoln biographies and cookbooks and Spanish poetry and young adult fiction all stacked by their bedside.

Who have crushes on Mary Louise Parker.  Who have held my hand in art museums, or held me on a couch the night after my father’s funeral, or held their palm gently against the small of my back, ushering me into a door or through a crowded room.  Who write the most incredible letters, which I will save forever.  Who love their wives, their fiancées, their girlfriends, their sisters, mothers.  Who chide me into staying a little longer and drinking another beer (or Scotch or glass of wine).  Who will happily eat anything I put in front of them.


I look at my fourteen-year-old male students, who are so earnestly figuring out how to be men, how to flirt, how to build character, integrity, and swagger, and then I look at these men in my life: Dave, Phil, Stephen, Wayne, and I feel tremendous joy for the men I know my boys will grow up to become.

MINESTRONE

This recipe makes a big batch, but minestrone is the perfect “it’s still cold outside” refrigerator space-taker.  I always like to have mine with a good, golden-crusted grilled cheese.

1 large yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
3-4 small zucchini
3-4 small yellow squash
2 bunches fresh spinach (can substitute frozen), washed & roughly chopped
1 large (28 oz.) can crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cans kidney beans
2 T tomato paste
1 T dried oregano (double if using fresh)
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt & pepper
olive oil

secret ingredient: Parmesan rind
optional: a few cups of cooked pasta

Dice the onion & mince the garlic.  In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat a fair amount of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Throw the onions in first and cook until they are a bit brown, then dial back the heat to medium and add the garlic.

While those two ingredients are making your house smell incredibly delicious, cut the zucchini & squash into small cubes, trying to keep them uniform without worrying too much over precision.  Add to the pot & sauté 5-8 minutes, until soft.

Now it’s time to toss almost everything in and let soup magic happen.  Tomatoes, stock, herbs, tomato paste, & Parmesan rind, if you’re using it.  Let your soup simmer for at least 45 minutes before adding the fresh spinach in batches, folding it in so it will wilt on its own in the hot soup.

Pull out the Parmesan rind (it will be gooey!) and toss in the beans, plus pasta if you’re using it.  Once everything has heated through, serve up in bowls or big mugs, garnishing with some fresh Parmesan and/or extra parsley, if you like.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: LAMB KOFTA

One of the hardest things about losing my dad is that there are just so many things I’d like to cook for him.

After a certain passage of time, the distinguishable presence of a loved one begins to fade—the distinct quality of their voice, the shape of their face in three dimensions, the particular quirks and habits.  It becomes more difficult to guess what they might have said in a particular situation, how they would react to a comment or a joke, what books you might recommend to them now, or what movies you would take them to.  I find it terrifying, in fact, the way passage of time seems to make it increasingly difficult for me to conjure up my father the way he was, the way he might be now.

Difficult, too, because the more time that goes by, the more different I am, perhaps unrecognizable to him.  My dad died before I earned a Masters degree, before I got my first full-time job, before I bought myself a car and did my own taxes and grew my hair out long and then cut it again.

I hate that he has missed all of this, and I have missed him in it.  I have wondered, doubted, that I might be forgetting him, losing him.

But the one place I still feel certain of him is in the kitchen.  I know, instinctively, the dishes he would want, the moment he would sneak a warm treat from the oven, the recipes that would dazzle him and make him proud.  This is one of them.

LAMB KOFTA

These lamb meatballs are rich, satisfying, and incredibly flavorful.  They also freeze well, so feel free to make a big batch!

meatballs:

1 lb. ground lamb
½ basin (chickpea flour)
½ cup crumbled paneer*
¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
½ onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T garam masala
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. red mirchi (pepper)

Sauté the onion & garlic in a bit of vegetable oil until soft.  Once they cool, toss them into a big bowl with the rest of the meatball ingredients.

Using your hands, form meatballs about an inch in diameter.  (I like to keep them on a sheet pan until they’re all ready.)  Once you’re ready, heat a cup of vegetable oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat.  Fry the meatballs until light brown, approximately four minutes on each side.

If you want to freeze or keep the meatballs separate from the gravy, you can finish them in a 350˚ oven, which should take only 10-12 minutes.  If you’re planning to serve them, just keep them to the side or in a low oven while you make the gravy.

gravy:
2 large (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
1 pint sour cream
½ cup whole almonds
½ large red onion, sliced
3 T ginger, chopped
3 T garlic, chopped
2 tsp. whole cumin
2 tsp. whole coriander

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat a quarter cup of vegetable oil over medium-low heat until it shimmers.  Add the cumin and wait for it to crack before tossing in the garlic, ginger, & onion.  Cook for a few minutes, then add the almonds and whole coriander.

Cook it all down until soft, and the onions are translucent, adding more oil during the cooking if necessary.  This whole process will take about fifteen minutes.

Toss in the tomatoes and stir everything together.  If you have an immersion blender, go ahead and put it to work.  If you’re using a conventional blender, allow the mixture to cool before blending it in batches.  Process until the mixture has reached your desired texture (I like mine a little bit chunky).

Add the sour sour cream to the gravy, mixing thoroughly until it turns light pink.  Reheat the gravy over medium heat until bubbling—be sure to stir regularly so it doesn’t stick to the bottom.  Add the partially cooked meatballs to the gravy and let them finish cooking there.

Serve over basmati rice, garnish with cilantro.

*Many of you may be able to buy paneer, which is a mild Indian cheese, at a specialty grocery store.  If not, you can make your own (it’s actually very easy!) or substitute a similar soft, mild cheese: farmer’s cheese, queso fresco, or a ricotta.  If you’re using ricotta, which can sometimes be watery, squeeze it out in a cheesecloth first.

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KALE CHIPS

With the deadly back-to-back combo of Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, Presidents’ Day, & Mardi Gras, you might have overdone it the last few days.  Fear not—I have vegetables for you.  Vegetables you’ll actually WANT to eat.

The season of Lent begins in earnest at the exact moment Mardi Gras (known to the church-going as Shrove Tuesday) ends.  While an abstemious season might not sound so appealing, the Episcopalian schoolgirl in me appreciates the opportunity to reflect and scale back.  Blame it on the way I was raised, but I actually look forward to giving something up for Lent.

In the past, I’ve done without chocolate, meat, desserts, Diet Coke, and gossip.  This year, I’m saying goodbye to alcohol for forty days—so long, margaritas, au revoir glasses of red wine, bye-bye beer.

What I appreciate about this discipline is that it forces some thoughtfulness into my daily life.  During Lent, I have to work around the commitment I’ve made; I have to remind myself why I made the commitment in the first place.

For the past few months, Jill and I have been consciously working to integrate many more servings of vegetables into our regular diet.  Seriously, when you look at the recommended amount of green (or purple) things one is supposed to eat in any given day, it’s kind of shocking.  Shocking how rarely I meet those guidelines, that is.


Until kale chips came into my life.  You’ve probably read about or at least seen these guys dancing around lots of blogs in the last few months, and I had, too, but somehow it took my stubborn self entirely too long to try them.  I pray you won’t make the same mistake.

These damn things are so good they even passed the muster of my “fry everything!” Louisiana-in-laws.  In the words of my friend John, “You just can’t understand how KALE could taste this good.”  It’s true.  These chips are now a regular in my kitchen, and whether I’m serving them to company or just for me and Jill, they disappear quickly.  I know you won’t believe me until you try it yourself, but you can get the crunch & salt factor of potato chips without having to fry anything and with the satisfaction of, well, eating a vegetable.

Whether you’re giving up an indulgence for Lent, or are just tired of salad, I urge you to give these pretty kale chips a whirl.  Just don’t blame me if they leave you dumbfounded.

KALE CHIPS

This basic recipe calls only for salt, but you’re certainly welcome to add other seasonings—garlic powder, Creole seasoning, pepper—but they lack nothing as-is.

Prepping the kale takes a little work, but once you’ve done that, the chips are incredibly simple to make.  If your grocery store sells pre-washed & bagged kale, feel free to cheat!  I usually prep two bunches at once, storing the washed and dried leaves from one bunch in a Ziploc bag for future use.

ingredients:

1-2 bunches kale*
olive oil
salt

oven: 400˚
pan: baking sheets

Cut or tear the kale leaf off of the middle rib, then cut or tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces.  Rinse the kale thoroughly in a sink full of cold water, then transfer into a colander to drain.

If you have a salad spinner, employ it here.  If not, proceed straight to towel-stacking, which goes something like this:

On a clean kitchen counter, spread out a very absorbent kitchen towel.  Line it with some paper towels.  Top the paper towels with a few handfuls of kale leaves, distributed evenly into one layer.  Place more paper towels on top of the kale, then another kitchen towel on top of all that.  Repeat.  Stack until the kale’s all hidden away, then press down lightly on the towel stack.  Let the kale sit for 5-10 minutes.

[My method may seem extreme, and yes, it’s a little time-consuming, but having very dry kale leaves makes a big difference when it comes to getting your chips crunchy.  Patience, grasshopper.]

Unwrap the kale and shake it into a big bowl (unless you’re reserving some of it for future use).  Drizzle a few tablespoons of oil over the kale, then toss to coat.  You don’t want to drown it, just barely cover each piece.

Spread the kale out onto two baking sheets—if you’re cooking two bunches at once, you’ll need to work in batches.  Salt the kale just before you slide it into the oven.

Bake for10-12 minutes, or until the edges of the kale pieces have become crinkly and any remaining moisture has left the leaves.  Serve warm.

Due to the inconsistency of ovens, please watch your kale closely!  You might want to try the chips first on lower heat, to prevent burning.

*I’ve used both flat (Tuscan) and curly kale, but prefer the latter.

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GREG’S BROWNIES

I know it’s fashionable to berate Valentine’s Day as an over commercialized trainwreck, but you know what?  I kind of like it.  Though I’m lucky enough to have someone I love to share it with (and believe me, I know that helps), what I really like about the holiday, despite it being a shallow capitalist ploy to get us all to buy crappy candy & cheesy cards, is that it puts love on the calendar.

Granted, most of what our culture has to say about love is sad, scary, dangerous crap (hello, song lyrics & “romantic” comedies)—but does that mean love has to become a bad word? I hope not, because that thing called love keeps blowing me away.  Real love, that genuine, below-the-surface, heart-full-to-bursting stuff, is the most extraordinary thing I think we, as human beings, get to experience.

Here’s what I love about love: it’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.  Just when I have stuffed the world back into its custom-sized box, contained and understood, safely put away where I might observe and manipulate it…love reminds me that there are approximately 8 zillion things possible in this life of which I can barely even conceive.

Each time I get to a place where I think I know love’s dimension, understand the various ways it can work, can drive people mad, can knock us on our asses and humble us and transport and expand…then suddenly, a whole new layer unfolds and I’m stunned all over again.

Love is the one thing that will actually push me to be the person I want to be.  My love for Jill has forced me to expand, to be so, so much bigger and calmer and compassionate than I ever was before I met her.  My love for my mother has brought me to moments of unselfishness and grace that fly in the face of my barest, basest self.

These brownies are named for a man I hardly know.  Greg and his wife Sharon are friends I made via Twitter, if you can believe it, and whom I have grown to love in a way that really doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes it works that way, mysteriously.

Loving someone else takes the much-too-bright shine off of our own imperfect lives for a little while.  I’ve baked these brownies for Greg twice—once on his birthday, once following his mother’s death—and both times, the gesture usurped and created a level of intimacy beyond what we had established at that point.

So now, every time I make brownies, I think of Greg.  Whether I’m making them for their namesake, or to go into a care package for Dave’s family, or for my colleague Steve (with leftover dulce de leche swirled in), or to finish off a dinner party for Jill’s visiting friend, my circle of concern grows in the process and, for a while, it isn’t all about me.  When I throw myself into a bowl of puddled chocolate and butter, when I will myself towards care and comfort with every spatula turn, then I’m a little bit closer to mirroring love and its infinity inside myself.


GREG’S BROWNIES

The key to great brownies is great chocolate.  Personally, I have become obsessed with Callebaut, which I am lucky enough to be able to buy in bulk at a few different specialty grocers here in town.  I can’t say enough good things about springing for fancy baking chocolate, especially if you’re able to find it in large blocks like the ones pictured here.  The price-per-ounce winds up being MUCH cheaper than purchasing chocolate in chip or bar form.  And as long as you keep any leftover chocolate wrapped in plastic & tucked into a cool, dark pantry, you’ll be able to keep it on hand for months.  Please do not put it in the refrigerator!

You can also order lots of great chocolate online—given how cold it is in most parts of the world right now, you won’t have to worry about it melting.  However, if you’re in a rush or just aren’t up to my level of chocolate-obsession, buy some Ghirardelli at the very least.  Nearly all grocery stores now carry it, and I cross-my-heart swear you’ll never go back to generic chocolate again.

This recipe is my fail-safe, with the coffee & vanilla flavors nicely highlighting the chocolate-y-ness of the chocolate (yes, that’s a technical term) and the chili powder adding just a little something extra.  You can obviously switch in other flavorings, like orange or almond, and leave out the chili if it makes you nervous.

As for texture, I’ve gotta have nuts.  Walnuts are most traditional for brownies, though pecans work nicely, too.  Extra chocolate is never a bad thing in my book.  But you could also toss in toffee bits, coconut, white chocolate chunks, etc.

ingredients:

6 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate, in chips or chopped finely
9 ½ T butter
1 T Kahlua (substitute cold coffee if you like)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup sugar, with 2 T removed
¾ cup flour
¼ tsp. ancho or regular chili powder (optional)
pinch of salt

add-ins:

½ cup chopped milk chocolate
½ cup chopped walnuts

oven: 350˚
pan: square baking pan (8 x 8 or 9 x 9)

First things first-line that baking pan with foil.  Using two sheets (one going in either direction, like a + sign,) be sure to leave plenty of overhang on either side.  Spray the inside of the foil with baking spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a large bowl.  Personally, I like the convenience of the microwave—just work in thirty second increments, stirring regularly to prevent burning.  Of course, you can also use a more traditional double-boiler (a.k.a heatproof bowl set over gently simmering water).

Once the chocolate and butter are melted and mixed, stir in the Kahlua and vanilla.  Set aside to cool down a bit.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together vigorously.  Add to the chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly.  Sift in the flour and pinch of salt.  Toss in the chopped chocolate & walnuts, then fold all that goodness together.

Scrape the brownie batter into the foil-lined pan, then slide the pan into the oven.  You will need some toothpicks & also, some patience.  I recommend you begin toothpick-testing at minute 30, plunging a toothpick into the very middle of the brownie pan.

Since these are fudgy brownies, the toothpick doesn’t need to come back completely clean, but it shouldn’t be covered in batter, either.  Remember, be patient!   Depending on the temperament of your oven, the brownies will take 35-45 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack for at least ten minutes.  At this point, you can lift the brownies out, using the foil overhang, and cool them further.  I know it’s hard to resist, but they really are much easier to cut if you wait at least 20 minutes.  If you must dig in, however, who will blame you? Not I. And not Greg, I’d wager.

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VALENTINE’S WINE: ON THE FLY & ON THE CHEAP

So…we’re all in luck because our Blue Jean Sommelier, Anders, is back just in time for Valentine’s Day!  If like so many folks, you’re trying to save money by cooking at home instead of going out, here are a few tips for picking the right bottle of wine to go with your gustatory tryst.  Check back Friday for a killer brownie recipe sure to woo any sweetheart.  Come to think of it, who says you need a date to enjoy either?  Wine + brownies for all!  xoxo, Nishta

Anders’ advice:

1.    Decide if you want your cuisine to highlight a special wine or a decent but basic wine to highlight a more intricate dinner.  For instance, if I had a Bordeaux from 1982 I would select a menu with delicious but simple flavors to frame the complexity of the aged French wine – filet mignon with baked potatoes and grilled vegetables would work well.  If your focus is the food, think mainly about the structure of the wine for the pairing.

2.    Plan your wine choice with your meal according to the basics; wine needs to be sweeter than the food, tannin helps cut through fats and proteins, alcohol accentuates spice (go for low alc content with hot foods) and acidity balances acidity.

3.    If possible go to a local wine specialty shop that offers a range of values and has a friendly, knowledgeable staff.   Present them with your desired price and a basic idea of what you are looking for (red vs. white, structured vs. smooth, earthy vs. fruity, oak-aged vs. stainless etc).

4.    If looking for an inexpensive bottle, try varietals that typically can be made with lower overhead costs (i.e. does well in stainless tanks/neutral barrels), is inexpensive because it relative low demand vs supply or is created where labor is less expensive; Pinot Grigio, Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes, Syrah, Merlot, Albarino, Vino Verde, Riesling, Unoaked Chardonnay, Cotes du Rhone, Beaujolais Cru, Aligote, Negroamaro and Valpolicella are all good options.

5.    Finally, if you are in a rush here are a few wines I have always found to have good value for price point: Columbia Crest Grand Estates and H3 wines, Ravenswood Vintners Blend, Catena,  Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc, Argiolas, Layer Cake and Porcupine Ridge.

For this blog I put myself to the test with five minutes to select three wines at a small corner market in the Mission district of San Francisco.  Here’s what I came up with:

2008 Alamos Torrontes- Argentina – (~$9.99)

Torrontes is an aromatic white grape that originated in Spain but now is grown almost exclusively in Argentina.  This bottling by Alamos boast decently intricate aromatics with unabashed lime, passion fruit and floral notes.  The palate is balanced with good acidity, a creamy mouthfeel and overt mineral-lime flavors. .  A great choice to accompany salads, cheese and crackers and or a fish/seafood entrée.

Anders’ Rating:  Class for the Coin

2007 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Merlot – California – (~$11.99
)

Ravenswood is one of the biggest names in Sonoma wine country and although it’s now owned by the corporate wine juggernaut Constellation Brands, its founder and winemaker Joel Peterson purportedly still has considerable control over the wines. The Vintners Blend wines are actually composed of wine that Joel purchases from across the state of California and then blends together as he sees fit, they are therefore what is known as negociant wines (a tradition that has been common in France for centuries).
  This wine has a beguiling, rich nose of spice and fruit.  The palate is a little light but very flavorful.  I get bright plum and black cherry.  While this a very smooth and soft wine, it is not going to improve with age and doesn’t have the tannin to stand to heavy meats,  All in all, quite tasty.

Anders’ Rating: Class for the Coin

2006 AR Guentota Old Vine Malbec – Argentina – (~$20.99
)

The AR Guentota was the only wine I couldn’t identify at the market and has price that typically indicates higher quality production methods with Argentinean Malbecs.   However, this bottle disappointed me.  It had ample tannins but the palate was a little bitter and the fruit came across as overripe.  Still a good price point for malbecs, but I prefer the Catena for about the same amount of money.

My Rating: Maybe Next Year

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GAME DAY CHILI

Every once in a while, we human beings are bold enough to take an idea, a possibility, a “what if” or a “hmm, could we?” and allow it to germinate in our mind, to take us over, to use us and pull us into creation mode.  Then, if we’re crazy enough, we begin to speak our idea aloud—we tell other people, they tell other people.  And before we know it, we are wed to the thing, we are given by it, we find ourselves sitting at the kitchen table (right, Julie?) in our pajamas, working and working but the work almost doesn’t feel like work.  Or at the very least it feels like the right kind of work to be doing.

For me, I find it’s all too easy to watch the news, to read the paper, to look at the world and think “I wish I could help,” to feel deeply for the suffering of others and then put that all aside and move on.  But not Julie van Rosendaal.  She created something, a beautiful something, something I am very proud to be a part of:

Inside this cookbook, you’ll find recipes and gorgeous photographs from some of the best chefs and bloggers on the internet, a group in which I’m honored to be included.  While the book was put together in record time (just under three weeks!), it’s lost absolutely nothing in terms of quality.  Preview a handful of the pages online; they’re gorgeous.

You can purchase the soft cover edition for $25, the hardcover for $50.  Every penny raised from sales will go straight to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, via the Canadian Red Cross & Doctors Without Borders.

I think the Blog Aid cookbook would make a great birthday, housewarming, wedding, Mother’s or Father’s Day gift.  Or just buy it as a statement of faith, a vote on the side of hope and good work, a testament to the fact that one woman’s idea can become food in a child’s mouth, medicine for a wounded man, glossy cookbook pages you hold in your hand.

GAME-DAY CHILI (among other Superbowl food ideas)

I hardly ever make chili the same way twice—depending upon what’s in my pantry, spice cabinet, freezer, & fridge, all kinds of meats and seasonings have made their way into the pot.  Don’t be afraid to mix meats—pork, venison, beef—and change up the type of beans you use (if you use beans at all).  If you have a crock pot or slow cooker, now is the time to drag it out!  It serves perfectly for chili-making.  Don’t worry if you don’t have one, though, you can still brew up some perfectly good chili the old-fashioned, stovetop way.

Every chili has some “signature moves”—mine are dark beer, cinnamon, & a little cocoa powder.  All three of these do a little something to the flavor…you can’t pinpoint what you’re tasting, but it tastes good.  Mushrooms may seem like a strange ingredient, but they bump up the “meatiness” quotient of the chili without you actually having to add meat at all.  Control the heat to match your own preference, and bear in mind that big pots of chili usually get hotter after a day or two in the fridge!

ingredients:

2 lb. ground sirloin

1 cup chopped crimini or white mushrooms

1 onion, diced

3 carrots

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 serrano or 2 minced jalapeño peppers (if you like/can handle the heat!)

4 T chili powder

1 T cocoa powder

1 tsp. chipotle chili powder

1 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. cayenne pepper

½ tsp. cinnamon

4 cups beef stock

1 dark beer (I used Negra Modelo)

1 28-oz. can fire-roasted, crushed tomatoes

2 14-oz cans kidney beans (but only if their presence won’t offend your sensibilities)

2 T Worcestershire sauce

2 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 dried ancho chile (you could certainly use another type)

a few dashes of liquid smoke

vegetable oil

potential accompaniments: white rice, spaghetti, tortilla chips, Fritos, cornbread, cheddar cheese, sour cream, scallions

Mix all of the spices in a small bowl.  Bring a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, then  brown the meat, in batches if necessary.  As you cook the meat, add in some of the spice mixture to each batch.

Once the meat has browned, transfer to a crock pot or large, heat-proof bowl.  Drain most but not all of the accumulated fat—swirl in a little vegetable oil, then sauté the onions and garlic for a 3-4 minutes before adding the carrots & mushrooms.

If using a crock pot or slow cooker, once the vegetables are soft, add them to the beef.  Pour in all of the remaining ingredients and cover, cooking for full cycle or at least two hours before serving.  Check for spices & salt.

If cooking on the stove, return the meat to the pot and add the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least an hour before serving.  Check for spices & salt.

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ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH YOGURT SAUCE

This recipe is much more Indian-inspired than actually “Indian.” It’s not some old-country recipe the secrets of which my mother has passed down to me, but rather an idea I got out of a Cook’s Illustrated magazine a few years ago. There isn’t really anything authentic about it, in fact, and so it might not at all belong in the “food of my people” category, but you know what? It’s cheap, it tastes delicious, it’s easy to make, and it got me to actually EAT CAULIFLOWER.

A strange and lovely, flowery, blooming, cruciferous vegetable. Oddly photogenic, pretty good for you. Generally overcooked or masked by a tragic cheese sauce. Oh maligned cauliflower, redemption is near.

When I was a kid, I hated cauliflower. H-A-T-E-D it. Gobi, in Hindi, was one of my dad’s favorite things to eat: pickled, stuffed into paranthas (griddle breads), even raw. Oh how I used to gag and fuss in that dramatic way little kids do when it was even suggested to me that I might eat some.

But like so many other palate-changing moves that come in adulthood, I at some point found myself eyeing the vegetable in the grocery store, tilting my head and thinking “Hmmm…” and now I will eat plates and plates of this stuff, warm from the oven, with a little naan at hand. Cauliflower, my new best friend.

This happened with olives, too, in graduate school. As a little girl, I remember plowing through those tiny cans of black olives, balancing each one on the top of my index finger before popping it in my mouth. But I suppose I overdosed on olives because, from age 6-24, I was not interested. Yick, yeesh, yuck, ew.

But then, one magical night at my friend Cara’s tiny graduate school apartment, which she kept impeccably and impossibly decorated, I sat drinking through a couple of bottle of cava with my two best friends, faced with a dreamy Spanish-inspired spread of almonds, figs, prosciutto, Manchego, & you guessed it! Big, fat, luscious olives. Once anathema to me, they suddenly glistened like jewels and I found myself downing them one after another, briny revelation.

I’m not sure how these transformations happen, if something one day becomes unlocked in our brains or our stomachs, if the tongue has a mind of its own which it can change at will, if as we age and smell new things and live in new places and with new people, we shift, glacially, towards things that had once seemed impossible.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH YOGURT SAUCE
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

So here’s the thing: curry powder isn’t so much an authentic Indian ingredient. It isn’t even a consistent ingredient, seeing as how it’s actually a BLEND of spices. Therefore, the quality, taste, & heat of curry powders can vary widely, so it’s an ingredient where I suggest you go for quality: McCormick’s has a fine enough grocery-store accessible version; I’m currently using Penzey’s medium hot bottle.

All of that being said, I’m dying to try this same method with halved brussels sprouts—another often-hated vegetable I have grown to love. The caramelization that comes when roasting brings out a nuttiness in the sprouts and I think the flavors of the yogurt sauce would nicely offset their inherent bitterness.

ingredients:

1 head cauliflower
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ T curry powder
salt

pan: two large baking sheets or roasting pans, lined with foil
oven: 400˚

Remove any leaves from the cauliflower and trim the stem so it’s flush and the head will sit upright on a cutting board. Using a large knife and caution, cut wedges in the cauliflower about ½-inch thick all the way around, leaving as much stem intact as possible. The idea is to create cauliflower pieces which will lie flat on either side.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil & curry powder. Distribute the cauliflower equally between the two baking sheets or roasting pans, then drizzle with half of the oil. Sprinkle the cauliflower with salt, then flip and do the same on the other side.

Roast in the oven for 10 minutes, then remove baking sheets so you can flip the pieces over and roast the other side. Cook an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is as tender as you want it (test with a fork). I like mine quite short of mushy, with a bite to it still.

If the pieces become too brown while cooking, simply cover with more foil. Serve when warm, with yogurt sauce.

for the sauce:

1 cup yogurt
¼ cup diced red onion
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 T lemon or lime juice
1 tsp. curry powder
salt
canola oil

Heat just a tiny bit of oil in a small saucepan and sauté the onions until very soft. Remove from heat and sprinkle the curry powder atop the onions, stirring to mix.

Combine the yogurt, onion mixture, citrus juice, & cilantro in a bowl. Stir thoroughly, then taste-test, adding a pinch of salt if you like.  Spoon over the warm cauliflower.

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