Back in the early 1970’s Chef Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse revolutionized American Cuisine, redefining what it meant to eat out and eat well. Taking full advantage of her access to abundant Bay Area produce, Alice began to aggressively elevate average vegetables into dishes that were fresh and exciting… nothing like the mushy and bland restaurant veggie sides of the past.
By the ’80s and ’90s, chefs all over the country, especially those in big cities like New York, we’re figuring out their own ways to add some va-va-voom to the veg.
Luckily for me, I lived in NY for ABC News twice in the ’90s. And, since I spent one of those years as a halfhearted vegetarian, I was thrilled to see the Chez Panisse effect echoed on the menus of my favorite restaurants.
Suddenly, there were amazing things like Fried Zucchini Blossoms, Grilled Romaine topped with Parmesan, Sea Beans Braised in Sesame Oil, Roasted Beets with Fresh Burrata, Butternut Squash Gratin, and Fried Cauliflower with Moroccan Spiced Bread Crumbs on the menus. They were dishes that were so savory and elegant they could make a meat lover’s mouth water, yet still satisfy the back to nature crowd.
Unfortunately, once you start fooling around with veg, it often loses its innocence, calorie-wise.
But in this adaptation of crunchy fried cauliflower, it doesn’t. By using whole spices instead of breadcrumbs and roasting the veg instead of frying, you can have the sensation and taste you want without any of the calories or fat.
I don’t think Alice Waters would disapprove.
CRUNCHY CORIANDER AND CUMIN CAULIFLOWER
1 head cauliflower, florets broken into bite-size pieces and stems chopped
2 t. whole coriander seeds (smashed a bit with a mortar and pestle or rolling pin)
2 t. whole cumin seeds (also smashed a bit)
1 t. salt
1 t. red pepper
1 t. sumac (They taste nothing like sumac, but chili powder or paprika could also be used for color. But do try to pick up ground sumac, it’s a distinctive taste that you’ll love.)
1 head garlic, broken up into cloves, but skins left on
Spritz of olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 425.
Using a mortar and pestle –or using a rolling pin, the flat end of a heavy knife, or a meat mallet — smash the cumin and coriander seeds as best you can. You won’t get them all, which is a good thing. You want some whole.
Add the seeds, along with the salt, red pepper, and sumac to the cauliflower, and toss with your hands to coat.
Put the garlic cloves in the corner of the same baking sheet. (You’re going to squeeze them out of their skins when they’re done so don’t mix them in.) Give it all another quick mist of cooking oil.
Roast at 425 for about 25-30 minutes.
When you pull the tray from the oven, squeeze the soft garlic from the cloves, discarding the papery skin. Add the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, and parsley to the cauliflower and toss with your hands.
Place on a serving platter, spritz with good olive oil and sweep all the remaining spices and seeds on the baking sheet to the top.
Serve with extra lemon on the side.