A few years ago, I drastically cut back on the meat in my diet.
Not for any ethical or dietary reason, I just wanted to inject a new perspective into my cooking style, and omitting meat meant that I had to approach my recipes from a brand new angle – taking into account flavour profiles and textures in a way I had not before.
It was like using brand new bricks to build a house. I knew what I wanted the final product to be, but I had to learn how to use new tools to get there.
There was one writer who completely changed how I view plant-based foods, and that’s Anna Jones. Her books ‘A Modern Way to Eat’ and ‘A Modern Way to Cook’ completely changed how I eat, and it still stays with me today, even though I am a carnivore.
It may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t eat meat from Monday to Friday. Anna’s influence taught me how to see vegetables as a main meal, and not just a side dish and I would encourage everybody, if you can, to pick up one of these books because it really does widen the parameters of your culinary expectations.
Anna showed me that putting vegetables at the forefront of your plate doesn’t have to be a conscious decision to ‘be good’ or attach any virtue to it, but it is an appreciation for natural flavour and texture, and they will nourish us back in return – not just from a health perspective (which I never care about because I don’t know enough about it to make lofty claims) but because they genuinely are delicious.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not strictly vegetarian, I will still use meat stock and Parmesan and other sneaky meat bits, and would order meat meals midweek if I was eating out say, in a restaurant or something, but the meals I cook at home throughout the week will predominantly be plant based, so much so that it is now just instinctually engrained in me whenever I go food shopping.
I will always pick up courgettes, butternut squash, tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms sweet potatoes and beetroot without any intention to make them side dishes, but the main meal component because I know, without even planning too far in advance, that these vegetables will form the basis of my eating week. However, there is another vegetable that will always find its way into my trolley, and that is, the cauliflower.
I will never not have a cauliflower in my fridge.
From curries and soups, to this traybake you see here, the cauliflower provides me with an endless surplus of recipes and I always feel quite secure knowing that I have one in the fridge. I don’t particularly go down the cauliflower rice route, I find all that grating incredibly annoying and the clean up is foul, but when I have a spare 5 minutes, I snap up all the florets and keep them in a Tupperware box in the fridge. That way, when I need to cook at speed, I don’t have to rush to take the core out, snap the leaves off etc.
But I must admit, I eat the whole thing too. I break off the thicker stems from the cauliflower and keep them in the fridge, and when I feel like snacking, I roast them for a while in a low oven and then dip them in a buttery hot sauce for sofa snacking.
Speaking of which, I have specified in the below recipe to parboil the cauliflower first, but this is not an absolute. The cauliflower will be slightly crisper without parboiling, which is not a bad thing, but I like the density of a parboiled cauliflower here. Although I’d understand skipping that bit because boiled cauliflower doesn’t make the nicest smell in the kitchen, but I have a huge fondness for the liquid it leaves behind.
When I parboil the cauliflower, I drain the water over a jug and to the jug, I add a vegetable stock cube and a few bay leaves. I then decant this into an empty, washed out milk carton and keep it in the fridge because it is a perfect stock to add to gravies, soups and curries – especially a cauliflower based curry – whenever I need an extra depth of flavour.
This particular traybake is a joy. It’s so, so simple to make and the turmeric spiced yogurt that laces the cauliflower provides a wonderfully rich and creamy coat that is perfect as a main meal serve with some boiled rice, some pickled red onions, some baked chickpeas, and maybe even a few thick sliced tomatoes.
However, and this goes against everything I have said in this post already, I have also served this alongside a paprika and cumin roasted chicken, and a cucumber-based green salad as a wonderfully vibrant side dish.
Serves 2 WITH a side dish or serves 4 – 6 AS a side dish
1 head cauliflower
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon all spice
2 cloves garlic
A thumb sized piece of fresh finger – peeled
150g natural yogurt
A handful of pomegranate seeds (to serve)
A handful of freshly chopped coriander (to serve)
- Put a large pan of water on to boil and while it comes to a boil, cut the cauliflower into small florets. Once the water is boiling, salt the water (gently – not as much as you would for pasta) and add the florets to the pan. Cook the cauliflower for 4 – 5 minutes, just until it is knife tender and then drain. If you’re saving the water for stock, like I do (see intro) then of course drain over a jug and catch all the water.
- Run some cold water from the tap over the cauliflower to stop the cooking process and tip the now cold cauliflower into a large bowl.
- To the bowl, scatter over the spices in the ingredients list with a little salt and pepper and then grate in the garlic and ginger.
- Pour in the natural yogurt and stir everything together – preferably with a metal or rubber spoon, not wooden – just because that turmeric will stain every damn thing.
- Once everything is combined in a creamy, yellow coating, pop the bowl in the fridge for 6 hours or just on the countertop for 1 – 2 hours, just to make sure the cauliflower gets as much opportunity as possible to soak up the spices.
- When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Lay the cauliflower florets on the tray and slide in the hot oven for 40 – 45 minutes, turning over half way through so that they are golden and even crisp in some places.
- Remove the tray from the oven, scatter with pomegranate seeds and freshly cut coriander leaves to serve.