Saffron is like the culinary equivalent of a lava lamp.
Stay with me.
Once saffron gets its spindly little Valentine hued frond into a meal, the whole thing is lit up with a warm, golden red aura. That’s why, when I cook with it, I like to get something pale and interesting so that it can fully absorb its glory.
But much like a lava lamp, saffron is often bought, used once, and then put in the cupboard to be forgotten.
Cooking with saffron is perplexing sometimes because at first peek it can look a bit useless. Aside from being gorgeous to look at, it’s often sold expensively, in tiny quantities and it’s not as if you can add a teaspoon of it – it comes in little weird strands.
That’s why I only ever use saffron when I have a liquid to drop it in. It’s easy, uses up a decent amount so you’re not left hanging and using it in liquids allows it’s complexly sweet yet earthy roundness to infuse anything that absorbs it.
So like I said, if saffron here is the lava lamp, then cauliflower is the idle teenager slumped on a neon inflatable chair and playing a Game Boy, just basking in its glow.
We’re using a whole cauliflower in this recipe, yes, even the leaves. When you roast the leaves, they wilt down but miraculously still retain a beautiful crunch. If you’re squeamish, fine, leave them out, but don’t throw them – use them in a big pot of water with other vegetables to make stock.
You could absolutely use ground cumin in this recipe if you can’t get hold of the seeds, but it will make the juicy marinade a little brownish. Not at all a bad tasting thing, but I sometimes don’t like to puncture that vivid, orange lick of saffron that stains the cauliflower.
A fat pinch of dried saffron strands
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 head of cauliflower
1 can of chickpeas
A handful of pomegranate seeds (from a tub or packet would be fine)
- In a large bowl or dish, combine the saffron, cumin seeds, Aleppo pepper and olive oil. Grate in the garlic, plus the zest of both orange and lime. Halve the orange and lime and squeeze in the juice. Mix everything together in the dish to create a sharp smelling but gorgeously red juice.
- Take the cauliflower, remove any ugly outer leaves but keep any that look healthy and whole. We’re wasting as little as possible. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and place in the bowl of orange juices, along with any of the saved outer leaves. Toss everything together so that the cauliflower, and its leaves, are coated.
- Leave the cauliflower to marinade in the juice for as long as you want, but I tend to just marinate it for as long as it takes for the oven to preheat to 200°C.
- Spoon the cauliflower out of its marinade and into a roasting tray that will fit everything snugly – don’t forget there’s chickpeas coming – and don’t throw away the juices leftover.
- Slide the cauliflower in the oven for 25 minutes but once it’s in, drain a can of chickpeas and scatter them into the bowl or dish of remaining citrussy saffron juices. Toss the chickpeas as best as you can in the juice.
- Once the cauliflower has had it’s 25 minutes, take out of the oven, pour in the bowl of chickpeas, and any juices left in the bowl, rustle them amongst the cauliflower and pop back in the oven for another 10 or 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, scatter with pomegranate seeds if you like that crunchy, sweet contrast, and serve.