Roasted Mediterranean Cauliflower

Ann Fulton

By Ann Fulton

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Simply roasted cauliflower is elevated to something special thanks to a versatile sauce that might just become a new favorite. The base recipe is perfect as a side dish, and a few pantry staples will transform it into a filling entree.

Simply roasted cauliflower is elevated to something special thanks to a versatile sauce that might just become a new favorite. The base recipe is perfect as a side dish, and a few pantry staples will transform it into a filling entree.

 

 

 

Easy and flexible are two important words in my kitchen.

Day to day, we all need recipes that don’t feel daunting. Small steps that we can knock out in advance, as time allows, are useful, too. That way, when mealtime rolls around, our job feels doable, if not effortless. 

Flexibility is also important: being able to swap out ingredients for others we prefer or have on hand is always helpful. I also appreciate the flexibility of being able to use a sauce I made one night to add flavor and interest to a variety of simple meals on subsequent nights.

The following recipe supplies these conveniences in spades.

When you look at the ingredient list, you may think, “Hmmmm. I’ve never used that condiment before. This sounds complicated.”

But it isn’t! And as always, I’ve provided worthy options and substitutions.

 

The short description:

To sum up the recipe, you simply roast cauliflower and pair it with a four ingredient sauce, which can be made in advance if you like. 

The best part is that you can further transform the dish in countless ways.

I usually start by adding some nuts and chopped dates. Golden raisins offer a worthy alternative in this Mediterranean-inspired dish, but those who don’t like to add fruit to their savory dishes may certainly omit. 

Simply roasted cauliflower is elevated to something special thanks to a versatile sauce that might just become a new favorite. The base recipe is perfect as a side dish, and a few pantry staples will transform it into a filling entree.

This recipe may be served as an extra flavorful roasted veggie side dish, shown above. It can also be easily transformed into a variety of complete meals (plant-based or with added meats), as in the photo pictured below. Fresh herbs are a nice touch, but given the small amount called for in the recipe, don’t hesitate to go without if you don’t have them on hand.

Simply roasted cauliflower is elevated to something special thanks to a versatile sauce that might just become a new favorite. The base recipe is perfect as a side dish, and a few pantry staples will transform it into a filling entree.

For a protein-rich addition that elevates the salad to a vegan main dish or satisfying lunch, I’ve taken to adding garbanzo beans or lentils. (For a speedy option, I like TruRoots sprouted lentil trio, which cook in four minutes!)

 

The sauce is what really makes this recipe shine.

The flavor of the tahini-harissa sauce is nutty and tangy with an underlying spicy sweetness from chili peppers. And just look at the gorgeous color in the photo above! (Details on both of these condiments follow, including substitutes and where to find.)

The four-ingredient sauce is complex yet versatile and will complement a wide variety of basics, from other roasted vegetables like potatoes, broccoli, and carrots to chicken, fish, rice, and chickpeas. Fresh greens, tomatoes, avocado, and cucumbers pair well, too.  

My favorite thing to do is roast enough cauliflower for two nights. The first time, I serve the cauliflower as a flavorful side dish. It’s delightful with virtually any basic protein, and you can use some of the extra sauce-the recipe makes plenty-to add zip to the rest of the plate.

On the second night, I use the leftover cauliflower and sauce to make a hearty salad or bowl-type meal. For something super easy, I stir in cooked lentils or chickpeas, a handful or two of greens, and perhaps top with some chopped tomatoes or avocado. 

And you may absolutely use the vibrant, orange-hued sauce in ways that don’t include cauliflower.

One of my family’s favorite meals is to use the flavorful sauce is in a rice-based bowl. I start with rice (white or brown, and more recently I’ve used black or forbidden rice for something fun). I usually add some greens like baby spinach or arugula and a protein like cooked chicken or shrimp. Then I top with whatever fresh additions I may have, from the aforementioned chopped tomatoes and avocado to cucumber and bell pepper. 

The sauce offers a great way to reinvent and stretch a seemingly endless variety of leftovers:

Have some leftover broccoli or Brussels sprouts and a single chicken breast? Start by cooking rice or quinoa for a hearty base, distribute the leftovers among your bowls, and then top with a variety of the ingredients I just mentioned or some that are included in the recipe card.

You might even have a few almonds or sprigs of fresh parsley to add to the mix. No leftover chicken? Perhaps you have a can of tuna or salmon in the cupboard. When you start looking, you’ll likely be amazed by what is readily available to make really good meal. 

A flavorful condiment truly has the power to bring life to so many basic ingredients. I’ve pulled together bowls of leftovers, topped with this memorable sauce, and my family has called the meal restaurant worthy. And it’s all leftovers! (It can be our secret!)

 

For those who may be new to one of the sauce ingredients, following are a few details:

What is harissa?

What is harissa?

Harissa paste is a deep red condiment made from chili peppers and spices, often including smoked paprika, cumin, and coriander, which originated in Tunisia, North Africa. The thick paste adds noteworthy flavor to soups, stews, marinades, dips, and more, similar to the way a curry paste would.

Are there substitutes? If you can’t find harissa paste, I recommend another chile paste, like sambal oelek, plus a pinch or two of cumin and smoked paprika. A red curry paste would likely taste excellent here as well. Note that while powdered harissa varieties are also available in the spice aisle, and pre-made harissa sauces can sometimes be found, we want the basic paste here.

Do be aware that the level of spice varies from one brand to another. Domestic varieties tend to be low on the spiciness scale, while imported brands often carry more heat. I mention in the recipe how to adjust for this.

Where to find: Harissa paste can be found in the international aisle of most large grocery stores and may be sold in jars, tubes, and cans. (For locals, Wegmans used to carry it but has not had it on the shelves recently. I purchased my last jar at Stauffer’s, and Mandros has it in stock as well.) 

How else to use harissa? Harissa can be stirred into soups, stews, and hummus. Or stir it into tomato sauce to perk up pasta. Toss it with roasted carrots or zucchini, spread some over flatbread, or use the spicy paste as a marinade for meat. Try it instead of sriracha, stir it into yogurt for a savory condiment or into mayo or ketchup for a little extra zing to your everyday condiments for burgers, eggs, salads, and more.

What is tahini?

What is tahini?

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds-it’s like a drippy peanut butter. Also called tahina, the condiment is rooted in Eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisines, where it is served by itself or used as a major ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush. 

Are there substitutes? Cashew butter might be my first choice as a substitute for tahini, but a number or things work well. I mention the other nut and seed butters I’ve tested in the recipe card notes, so if someone in your family has a nut or seed allergy, you can absolutely work around it. 

Where to find: Tahini can typically be found in alongside the other nut and seed butters.

 

What’s the best way to cut cauliflower?

What's the easiest way to cut cauliflower?

What’s the easiest way to cut cauliflower into florets? Simply quarter the head first, and then slice the core from each quarter. At that point, you can simply break the cauliflower into bite-size florets.

Simply roasted cauliflower is elevated to something special thanks to a versatile sauce that might just become a new favorite. The base recipe is perfect as a side dish, and a few pantry staples will transform it into a filling entree.

This flavor-packed, plant-based dish is vegan, gluten- and dairy-free, and can be enjoyed hot, cold, or room temperature. The easy yet nuanced dressing can be made in advance and be enjoyed in so many ways.

For those who’d like to see me prepare this recipe, I created a video for the LG Health Food Hub in an effort to share more recipes that make good use of leftovers. 

Roasted Mediterranean Cauliflower
Yield: 4 servings (dressing recipe will make enough for a second batch of cauliflower or to accommodate optional extras)
Simply roasted cauliflower is elevated to something special thanks to a versatile sauce that might just become a new favorite. The base recipe is perfect as a side dish, and a few pantry staples will transform it into a filling entree.
For the Roasted Cauliflower:

• 1 large head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets (could use two heads if small; exact measurement isn’t critical here)
• 1½ to 2 tablespoons olive or avocado oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Tahini-Harissa Dressing:

• ⅓ cup (84 grams) tahini*
• 2 tablespoons (30ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (you may start with 1½ T for less tang)
• 1-2 tablespoon harissa**, depending on spice preference and brand used
• 4 tablespoons water, plus 2-3 tablespoons as needed
• 2 Medjool dates, pitted and diced (may substitute 2-3 tablespoons raisins; golden are especially nice)
• ¼ cup toasted pistachios (may substitute chopped almonds, cashews, pepitas, sunflower seeds, or a mix of several)
Optional for serving: 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley, mint, and/or dill; arugula, spinach, or fresh greens of choice; 1 cup cooked lentils or garbanzo beans

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425℉, and lightly grease a large, rimmed baking sheet.

Make the tahini-harissa dressing: In a small bowl, stir together the tahini, lemon juice, harissa, water, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. If the dressing is too thick and does not easily drizzle, add additional water, a tablespoon at a time. Note that the dressing will thicken as it sits. Taste and add a pinch or two of additional salt as needed to round out the flavor and/or more harissa to taste. Make-Ahead Tip: dressing can be prepared earlier in the day and stored, covered, on the counter. Flavor will improve over time.

In a large bowl, toss together the cauliflower and enough olive oil to lightly coat the florets. Spread the cauliflower evenly over the prepared baking sheet, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and roast for approximately 20 minutes, or until the florets are just tender and lightly golden.
Remove the cauliflower from the oven and allow it to cool for about 5 minutes, and then transfer to a large bowl. Toss the cauliflower with enough of the tahini-harissa dressing to coat, and then fold in the dates and pistachios. (Start with about ⅓ of the dressing, adding more to taste. You should have leftover dressing, which can be refrigerated for a week or so, for another batch. The dressing can also be enjoyed on other roasted vegetables like potatoes and carrots, salads, chickpeas, fish, chicken, etc.)
Sprinkle with the fresh herbs (or stir them in). As an option, you may plate over greens of choice and/or stir in optional garbanzos or lentils, drizzling with additional dressing as needed to coat the additional ingredients. This dish may be enjoyed warm, cold, or room temperature.

Notes & Substitutions:

*Cashew butter might be my first choice as a substitute for tahini, but a number or things work well. The first time I made this, I didn’t have tahini, so I used a combination of cashew butter and sunflower seed butter with great results. I’ve since tried almond butter, too. Peanut butter would likely provide an overly prominent nutty flavor, but feel free to experiment with milder tasting nut butters if you don’t have tahini or have a sesame allergy. When substituting, I do find that mixing the nut and seed butters adds depth of flavor.
**Harissa is a spicy and aromatic chile paste that’s a widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. Harissa is most commonly found ready-made in jars, tubes and cans and is sold in the ethnic aisle of most large grocery stores.
I like to use 2 tablespoons in this recipe and find that it’s not too spicy. Taste after adding 1 tablespoon, however, and then add more to taste. If you can’t find harissa, I recommend another chile paste, like sambal oelek, plus a pinch or two of cumin and smoked paprika. A red curry paste would likely taste excellent in this sauce as well.

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

Finally, I must thank my friend, Cathy, whose friendship dates all the way back to high school, for inspiring this recipe. Several years ago, Cathy asked me to help replicate a menu favorite from a restaurant called True Foods Kitchen, and this recipe is the end result. 

The funny thing is that Cathy’s dog Henry enjoys cauliflower as much as she does. He leaves the cooked recipes to Cathy but considers the raw florets a real treat. While preparing this recipe recently, Cathy tried to capture the moment. Henry launches after the cauliflower as soon as he sees it, so he was a blur in most of the photos. This one, however, clearly captured his cuteness! 

A dog's favorite healthy treat 😊
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Comments

  1. AvatarJean Husson

    Just put this on my “to cook” list. I’m with Henry — adore cauliflower. (And I have a chickpea loving cat!)

    Reply
    1. AnnAnn Post author

      Haha! I love that your cat enjoys chickpeas, Jean. Perhaps she (he?) can be inspiration for a brand new recipe, too!

      Reply
  2. AvatarHarriett

    This was delicious! I thought the roasted cauliflower would be drier, maybe i could’ve cooked it another minute or two. But, you are right, Ann. the dressing really makes the dish! I used the leftover dressing at lunch as a dip for cherry tomatoes.

    Reply
    1. AnnAnn Post author

      Great news, Harriett! I’m delighted you enjoyed and that the leftover dressing went to good use! One thought on the cauliflower… if you washed it and it wasn’t completely dry, the residual moisture could have created steam in the oven, making the cauliflower seem not as dry as one would expect. If that wasn’t the case, I’d be happy to troubleshoot further if needed.

      Reply