Monday, March 22, 2010

roasted cauliflower and sesame spread

I love Middle Eastern food for many reasons—the spices, the smoky char of grilled meats, the culture of sharing—but perhaps foremost among these is the central place of tahini. In ancient Persia, the ground sesame paste originated as ardeh (“holy food”), and let me just say: those people knew what was up.

My introduction to tahini was fairly commonplace: like most people, I knew it only as a key ingredient to dips like hummus and baba ghanouj. And I didn’t feel the need to take the relationship any further.

What a difference a couple of years make. Somewhere between Ana Sortun’s parsnip hummus, Sara Jenkins’s roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce (one of my favorite discoveries of 2009) and Casa Moro’s beet and tahini dip, I developed a deep, abiding love for tahini. Seriously, I am hard-pressed to name a vegetable that wouldn’t benefit from its creamy sesame flavor. (Don’t even get me started on sweet applications. Just go to Russ & Daughters and try their seven-layer halva.)

This recipe comes from Jerry Traunfeld of Seattle’s Poppy restaurant, and, given my previous success with the cauliflower and tahini combination, it seemed natural to adapt it to puree form. After all, pureeing brings me one step closer to mainlining the stuff.

Texturally, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it—the spread is coarse, almost sandy from the roasted florets. But it tastes as delicious as I would have expected.

Roasted Cauliflower and Sesame Spread
Adapted from Food & Wine

1 head of cauliflower, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Sesame seeds, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with the oil, ginger and coriander and season with salt. Spread the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned in spots. Let cool slightly.

Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor. Add the tahini and lemon juice and pulse to a chunky puree; season with salt. Add the cilantro and pulse just until incorporated. Transfer the spread to a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve warm with pita bread.

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