One thing I love about recipe development is working with a challenging ingredient, one that polarises people. I guess it says a lot about me, having a need to make haters into lovers, presenting dishes with canned corn or tuna to my husband, determined he will change his mind if I only found the right alchemy to do so. Cauliflower is one of those ingredients, and even with its resurgence, some people are still opposed.
Whole baked cauliflowers, cauliflower steaks and cauliflower rice have all appeared in kitchen repertoires in recent years. There was even a split-second moment I joined the "no carb" evangelists and found myself making a cauliflower pizza base.
There's nothing better than smothering cauliflower with bechamel, a variety of cheeses and then baking it until all crispy and browned on top. It's the perfect comfort food when disguised as a fatty protein. But there's also something quite magical about soaking this brassica in acid and pickling it in a spiced vinegar brine. Cauliflower has the perfect delicate nutty flavour to embrace the sour notes of vinegar and spices, enveloping them like a hug.
You may already be versed in piccalilli, a turmeric/mustard spiced pickle with a cornflour thickened vinegar brine. But have you tried a quick pickle brine? The sour sharpness is mellowed with additional water and sugar - this makes it too low in acetic acid for a longevity preserve, so keep this one in the fridge.
I've matched it with a vegetarian, or vegan option, pita pocket with homemade falafel. A scrumptious housing for any pickle, especially that of turmeric cauliflower. You could also use up some of the pickled chillies from the recipe in my column last month about soup toppings.
Makes approx. 2 x 1-litre jars
700ml white wine vinegar
700ml filtered water
150g caster sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp turmeric
750g cauliflower, florets weight
2 large cloves garlic, peeled, halved
1 small cinnamon stick, halved
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp za'atar, optional
1. Make a pickling brine by mixing the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, in a saucepan over a medium heat. Once warm add the turmeric, simmer, and stir, dissolving the sugar and salt, for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
2. Cut 3-4cm florets off the cauliflower and pack into clean jars. Divide the garlic, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, chilli flakes and za'atar between each jar and pour over the brine. Make sure the cauliflower is completely submerged, using a chopstick to release any trapped air bubbles, topping up where needed, before sealing.
3. Keep for 5 days in a cool dark cupboard before eating. After, keep refrigerated and eat within 3 months.
Makes approx. 4
4 pita bread pockets
4-8 tbsp hummus
8 falafels, see recipe below
Pickled cauliflower florets
1 Tbsp harissa
3 Tbsp Greek yoghurt, or tahini
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Pickled red chillies
Handful fresh mint/flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to season
1. Toast the pitas, cut a quarter off the top and assemble the pockets first by spreading in hummus, add two falafels to each pocket, along with the florets of your pickled cauliflower.
2. In a separate bowl mix together the harissa with the yoghurt and lemon juice. If making the vegan version whisk the harissa with the tahini and lemon juice, adding a little water as you go to loosen to a dressing consistency.
3. Drizzle the harissa dressing over the filling and top with pickled chillies and fresh chopped herbs and a crack of pepper.
Makes approx. 10
150g dry chickpeas
50g mung beans
1 tsp baking soda
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
50g mix fresh coriander/flatleaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp plain flour
Vegetable oil, for deep frying
1. Soak the chickpeas and mung beans for 8 hours in 500ml of water mixed with the baking soda. Then drain.
2. In a food processor, pulse-blend the onion with the garlic and herbs. Add the pulses and blend until you get an even grainy texture throughout. Transfer into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and stir through the spices, baking powder and flour to make a thick paste. Divide the mixture into 10 oval ball shapes by squeezing them in your palm.
3. Heat your oil in a deep saucepan, or deep fryer, to 170C. Batch fry the falafel balls for 5 minutes, turning, until they are quite browned, making sure your oil gets back up to temperature before doing the next batch.