Last week’s warm weekend, with its ingratiating mantra and promise of sunnier climes, tricked me into thinking spring had arrived. One minute I was making daisy chains in The Mother-in-Law’s garden with two nymphy children running naked circles around me; the next I’m impersonating a drowned rat towing two smaller drowned rats through gale-force winds and bucketing rain. However, I will not succumb and allow the weather to batter my optimism for the springtide. Instead I battered some cauliflower, all the while reminding myself that the rain is good for the garden.
On my recent trip to Israel with The Husband and kids, I was reminded that this crazy, beautiful country has such a wonderful food culture. Influenced by the many peoples who have passed through, we feasted upon the fruits of their histories and of their land. We ate spiced chicken livers with secular Israelis in Tel Aviv, the headiest zhough (a delicious Yemenite fiery, green chili paste) from a humble stall in a shuk, hamishe chicken soup with Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, baklava that tasted like liquid gold, and the freshest seafood with Arabs in Jaffa. And one of my best discoveries was the way they cook cauliflower: charred whole on a grill or fried until golden, it transcends the transgressing British way of boiling the life out of the cauliflower until you are left with nothing more than a pappy and soggy yellowing corpse.
So, allow me to introduce to you my very easy and incredibly moreish recipe for Crispy Cauliflower with Ras el Hanout, Tahini and Date Syrup. The family went crazy for this dish, with its sweet spiced charms and its crispy and creamy texture. It takes minutes to make and serves four grown ups as a starter.
Ras el Hanout is an intoxicating blend of spices originating in Morocco and used throughout North Africa. Like many spice mixes, there isn’t one definitive blend, but the one I have includes rose petals, paprika, cumin seed, coriander seed, salt, chilli, black pepper, cinnamon, fennel seed, turmeric, cardamom, mace, pink peppercorn, black onion seed, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, and clove. I particularly like the floral balance of the rose petals and their aphrodisiac suggestiveness: roses in cooking will forever remind me of this wonderful scene from one of my favourite books-to-films, ‘Like Water for Chocolate’, although don’t expect my cauliflower to have the same sort of effect (especially if your mother-in-law is dining with you).
50g gram (chickpea) flour
2 teaspoons of ras el hanout
3 tablespoons of tahini
1 tablespoons of date syrup
1 tablespoon of fresh coriander, finely chopped
Oil for frying (such as coconut, groundnut or sunflower), enough to fill your frying pan 5cm up from the bottom
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Whilst you do this, wash and cut up your cauliflower into chunky florets.
Plunge the florets into the water and blanche for a couple of minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Mix the ras al hanout spice mix with the gram flour and add the cauliflower whilst still warm. Using your hands coat all the florets well.
Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed frying pan, covering so that the oil reaches around 5cm up the side. Heat over a medium/high heat. When the oil is hot (but not smoking) add the cauliflower (in batches if your pan isn’t large enough) and fry until golden brown – this will probably take around 5 minutes – ensuring your turn the florets so they colour evenly and do not burn.
Remove from the pan and drain on some paper towel.
Whilst still warm, arrange on either one large serving plate or smaller plates, and dress liberally with the tahini, date syrup and a scattering of coriander. (I also finished my dish with some deliciously delicate wild garlic flowers from the mother-in-law’s garden. Makes it look all fancy shmancy.)