So For me, the flavours of the Middle East and Africa are the most unfamiliar and exotic. My grandparents raised me on Eastern European and British Irish comfort food. I also encountered all kinds of Asian food growing up in the Pacific Northwest and later Hawaii, so those cuisines feel like comfort food to me as well. Although I am not an American, I have lived in the USA for a long time and have a deep love and interest in regional American Cuisine (especially southern food). I have travelled in Mexico, the Indian Subcontinent and all over Europe and have obsessively explored those cuisines. Sometimes the obsession led to the travel and some times it resulted from the travel!
I have never travelled or lived to the Middle East or Africa. I have no family history there. I had really never even eaten Middle Eastern food until I moved to the East Coast to go to college (unless you count the popularity of “chick pea dip” in the hippy circles of my early childhood). However, for the last year I have been increasingly drawn into the charms of this cuisine by Yotam Ottolenghi. I am not alone in this. He is the author of three spectacularly popular cookbooks and along with his partner Sami Tamini has a small empire of beloved restaurants in London.
I have to admit that I almost never manage to follow the recipes from Ottoglenghi’s cookbooks exactly. They call for LOTS of ingredients that I do not typically have kicking about in my kitchen. I am also frequently overwhelmed with the urge to simplify some of the steps in the recipes. Despite my hapless tweaking, I have been consistently thrilled by food I have prepared from these cookbooks.
Most recently I tried a recipe for dukkah from the newest cookbook, Jerusalum. Dukkah is an Egyptian nut, seed and spice mix. I get the impression that the exact ingredients and proportions vary wildly from cook to cook. I admired a recipe for carrot puree and dukkah on the excellent food blog Lottie and Doof a while back that is totally different from the one in Jerusalum and my mother told me about a recipe for dukkah that a friend gave her which was different again.
I sprinkled the dukkah on roasted cauliflower and decided that it would be perfect if I added some fresh tomatoes and parsley. The dukkah has such an complicated array of flavours, that each bite is a unique surprise. It would be an amazing side dish for lamb, but I am also quite content to eat it all by itself!
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 1/4 cup olive oil (you may need a splash more if your cauliflower is large)
- 4 small or 2 large fresh ripe tomatoes (more or less as you like!)
- a handful or two of minced parsley
- Dukkah to taste. I used about a 1/8 cup (recipe below)
- Salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Trim the tough stem and core from cauliflower and save it for another use (such as Kofta, Handavo or Soup).
- Using a paring knife, cut cauliflower florets into smaller spears.
- Toss the cauliflower with the oil and spread it out on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast until edges start to brown, about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. While the cauliflower roasts make the dukkah (recipe below).
- Toss the roasted cauliflower with the tomatoes, parsley, dukkah and salt to taste and eat warm or at room temperature.
This will make about a cup, so you will have lots leftover!
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts or blanched almonds
- 2 Tablespoons sunflower seeds or unsweetened shredded dry coconut
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 3 Tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 Tablespoon peppercorns
- 3 Tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or maldone salt
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika (I used hot paprika)
- Spread the hazelnuts out on a baking sheet and place them in the oven. After 5 minutes or so add the sunflower seeds. After another five minutes check remove the nuts and seeds from the oven and set them aside to cool.
- Heat a heavy skillet over high heat. Add the fennel and coriander seeds seeds and dry roast them for 30 seconds. Add the peppercorns and cumin seeds and dry roast for another 30 seconds. Remove the seeds to a small bowl and return the skillet to the heat.
- Reduce the heat and add the sesame and nigella seeds. Roast, stirring constantly until the sesame seeds turn golden. then remove them from the heat.
- Rub the hazelnuts between your hands to remove some of the skins. Using a mortar and pestle roughly crush and chop the toasted hazelnuts and sunflower seeds, then transfer them to a medium bowl.
- Use a mortar and pestle to crush the toasted fennel, coriander, cumin and peppercorns. Add them to the crushed nuts.
- Add the toasted sesame seeds, nigella seeds, salt and paprika to the mixture and stir to combine. Store whatever you don’t use right away in an airtight container.
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