Saying something is “just like chicken” has become something of a culinary joke by now, a sure sign the speaker lacks imagination or descriptive ability. Maybe so, but what if something is surprisingly similar to chicken? Especially when it’s not even meat? Cauliflower achieves such a feat when it’s prepared after the Lebanese fashion and emerges from the kitchen as Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini and Lemon.
Promising enough a concept for Milk Street to feature the recipe in its July-August 2019 issue. All the more so when Lebanon offers many dishes of even greater prominence. For this to make the cut, then, it would have to be pretty special cauliflower, something allowing the vegetable to join the baklavas and pitas of the world. It is.
The secret comes with an intensely hot oven, with temperatures approaching the appliance’s maximums. This level of heat lacquers the flavorful sauce onto the vegetable, binding the two, actually. It also produces a light char, which accelerates the process and deepens the flavor. The tangy-spicy tomato sauce permeates every nook and cranny in the floret.
Yes, it is a little spicy (but not overly so). though two add-ons help to douse the flames. Creamy, nutty tahini (sesame paste) is drizzled over the cauliflower. Think of peanut butter thinned with a little cream. Also, a fair amount of cilantro garnishes. Green, cool cilantro. The sauce stirs the taste buds’ passion, then the tahini and cilantro quell them.
Another thing the oven does is to tenderize the cauliflower, rendering it soft and just a little chewy almost like a meat. So, is it really just like chicken? Truthfully, not quite, though it comes amazingly close. A blind tasting would inspire speculation about just what kind of meat it is. A vegetable probably wouldn’t even be on the radar. Chicken is about as close as you’re going to get, but this is something different, something special.
Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini and Lemon
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons tahini, plus more to serve
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce (*1)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 2-inch florets
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, plus lemon wedges for serving
Set a rack at the oven’s middle position, then preheat oven to 500°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray it generously with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, tomato paste, tahini, hot sauce, cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cauliflower and mix it with your hands, taking some care to cover the cauliflower entirely. Place the cauliflower in a single layer on the baking tray you prepared. Baked for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is lightly charred.
Stir together the cilantro and lemon zest. When the cauliflower is dome baking, let it cool on the tray for five minutes, then plate it. Sprinkle with the cilantro-lemon mixture, drizzle with more tahini and serve with lemon wedges.
1 – I used sriracha. Yes, from the wrong side of Asia, but t has a subtle flavor that’s a little more refined than is domestic hot sauce.