Can we just agree to call it cauliflower and leave it there? What’s so wrong with that? Does it have to become some sort of trend or justifiable and documented “thing”?
The vegetable itself has certainly become more ubiquitous, what with cauliflower rice, pizza crusts and the like now available in most run-of-the-mill supermarkets.
It’s the continuation of a trend that’s been going on for a while: Cauliflower has overtaken kale as the hero vegetable of the brassica family. A veritable Marvel Universe of nutritious plants, most brassicas are green and good for a salad or a stir-fry, maybe inclusion in some sort of drink-your-vegetables green concoction. Healthy for certain, but how many kale salads can you eat?
Cauliflower does stand apart from the group if only for its coloring. Although most are identified by a large, dense creamy white head, there are of course those lime green and buttery yellow variations and that odd fractal Romanesco cousin. All share the same densely nutritious heritage and this subfamily, in particular, features a subtle, slightly nutty/sweet flavor. This is true particularly when cooked fast and hot, and helps to avoid the strong sulphurous smells common to the rest of the family.
This recipe calls for what have come to be known as cauliflower “steaks” — those substantial slabs of vegetal goodness, here cooked with a light jacket of crispy panko. This treatment makes me want to call them cutlets, but the truth is this is not that. Truth be told, though, as a confirmed omnivore, I think that this same method works just as well for boneless chicken thighs or select fish filets and steaks. Nested on a bed of yet another brassica — peppery arugula — these meaty cuts become the centerpiece and substance of a one-plate meal.
A pan-Mediterranean relish of red onions and garlic, smoky, roasted sweet red or yellow peppers and spicy pickled hot peppers adds more than color, heat and brightness, and the creamy tahini-lemon dressing smooths it all out, amplified by the crunch of toasted pine nuts which themselves echo the subtle nuttiness of the cauliflower.
Crispy Baked Cauliflower With Mediterranean Relish
and Tahini-Lemon Dressing
For the relish
(can be made ahead)
- ¼ large red onion, stem end intact, to slice into thin slivers (mandolin preferred)
- ¼ cup roasted red and/or yellow peppers, diced large
- 1 to 2 teaspoons minced hot pickled peppers (pepperoncini, peppadews or Calabrian hot cherry peppers)
- 1 tablespoon capers rinsed
- ¼ to ½ cup scallions (green only) or parsley, minced
- From the pantry: 1 tablespoon (or more) minced garlic; 1 tablespoon (or more) thyme leaves; ¼ cup olive oil; 1 to 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- (Optional: ¼ to ½ preserved lemon, rind only, diced small; and/or pitted black or green olives, roughly chopped)
For the dressing
(can be made ahead)
- 1/3 cup tahini
- 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup (or sweetener of your choice)
- From the pantry: 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice; 1 teaspoon minced garlic; water to thin
For the cauliflower cutlets
- 1 head cauliflower
- ½ cup panko (unseasoned Japanese bread crumbs)
- From the pantry: 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped; ½ cup Dijon; 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Olive oil
- White wine vinegar
- Fresh thyme (about 2 tablespoons cleaned and separated leaves, left whole)
- Dijon mustard
- Arugula (as needed for plating)
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted 5 minutes in preheated 350-degree oven
1. For the relish: In a small bowl, combine all relish ingredients; stir gently to mix; season to taste with salt and pepper; reserve.
2. For the dressing: In another small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, adding enough water to achieve a creamy liquid consistency; season to taste with salt and pepper; reserve.
3. For the cutlets: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a small-rimmed roasting pan in the oven to preheat. (This will assist in even cooking.) Trim tough green leaves from the stem of the cauliflower, keeping stem and head intact. Trim stem enough that the head sits flat. Flip cauliflower over and, measuring about ½ to ¾ inch on either side of the stem, slice straight down, creating one large, thick cross-sectional slab of cauliflower. (Reserve the trimmings for another use. You might incorporate ¼ to ½ cup of small florets into the relish.) Slice the remaining large piece once more down the center of the stem, creating two cutlets.
4. In a small skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil and add panko, stirring constantly, to toast until just barely golden. Remove from heat and reserve on a dinner plate.
5. In another small bowl, whisk together ½ cup Dijon, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon chopped thyme; season to taste with salt and pepper. Using your fingers, gently massage the mixture into the cutlets. Press individual cutlets into the bread crumbs, flipping to coat both sides and pressing as much of the remaining crumbs into the edges and top. Place the cutlets on the preheated pan; bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes, checking occasionally to ensure the bread crumbs don’t burn. (You may need to bake them a bit longer to achieve a golden-brown crust.)
6. While the cutlets bake, toss two healthy handfuls of arugula in a large utility bowl with a squeeze of lemon, a light drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Divide greens on two dinner plates. To serve, lay warm cutlets on top of the greens; spoon relish over cutlets and drizzle tahini dressing over all. Garnish with toasted pine nuts, additional thyme leaves and scallions or parsley if available.