I like to sauté cauliflower in most preparations. For example, when I make cauliflower cheese I take large florets, slice them in half, and sauté them gently to bring out the sweetness before transferring them to a baking dish and covering with cheese and bechamel sauce. I often use parmesan, but most hard cheeses work.
This dish is a riff on the cauliflower cheese, but it is more like a salad than a baked dish. It is punchier, and possibly not as rich and maybe even a little bit healthier than smothering the poor florets with cheese and a litre of bechamel.
To get a bit further away from cauliflower cheese I’ve borrowed the aromatic elements of a cauliflower curry, but reimagined it with dry spice in a pan. As is the case with carrots, the sweetness of the cauliflower makes it work with bold spices such as fennel seeds and cumin. When I cook spices, particularly dry spices, I like to toast them in a warm pan to bring them back to life before grinding.
This dish is not just for the winter months, either. I’ve served it in summer as part of a meze, with tabouli and tomato salads. But I find I wheel it out more in the cold months when there is less variety of seasonal vegetables.
The other winter salad I find myself relying on is a witlof and blue cheese salad. The only other time I’ve had blue cheese dressing was on chicken wings. How this came to be acceptable, particularly in public, I have no idea. Having done a little bit of research, I can find no country willing to claim ownership of this particular match.
The inspiration for this salad comes from the Waldorf salad, which originated at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The recipe is a century old and often tastes that way. Texturally, the apple and endive and walnuts and celery and blue cheese sauce is overly complicated and confusing. It has a lot to think about while it sits lonely in the buffet where it belongs. It is the gado gado of Manhattan.
But like almost all cooking, it can be saved by simplification. I’ve dispensed with the apples and hopeless chunks of celery, and added thin slices of radish for crunch. The blue cheese dressing helps marry the disparate elements.
Spiced cauliflower and goat’s curd
– 1 tsp coriander seeds
– ¼ tsp cumin seeds
– ¼ tsp fennel seeds
– 8 white peppercorns
– ½ head cauliflower
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 spring onion, finely sliced
– 1 tbsp lemon juice
– 1 green scud chilli, finely sliced
– ¼ pomegranate
– 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
– 1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
– 2 tbsp goat’s curd
Toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and peppercorns in a dry frying pan until aromatic. Allow to cool, then grind to a coarse powder using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Cut the head of the cauliflower into two-centimetre-wide florets. Peel the stem and cut into thin slices. Toss the cauliflower in a bowl with the olive oil.
Fry the cauliflower in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat until golden and barely cooked through. Add the ground spices to the pan and continue to cook for another minute. Transfer the cauliflower to a bowl and toss it with the spring onion, lemon juice, chilli and salt to taste. Leave the cauliflower for 10 minutes before serving to allow the flavours to develop.
Meanwhile, break apart the pomegranate and remove the jewel-like arils from the bitter pith.
Toss the cauliflower with the parsley and mint and place it on a serving dish. Spoon little spots of goat’s curd among the florets and then sprinkle the pomegranate over the top.
Witlof, radish and walnut salad, blue cheese dressing
– 3 witlof
– 6 radishes
– 2 tbsp parsley leaves
– 1 tbsp small, pale celery leaves taken from the celery heart
– blue cheese dressing (recipe below)
– small handful walnuts, toasted
Trim the base of the witlof and separate the leaves. Cut the radishes in half and then each half into thin wedges.
Gently toss the witlof, radishes, parsley and celery leaves with half of the dressing. Arrange the salad in a serving dish and sprinkle the toasted walnuts over the top. Spoon the remaining half of the dressing over the salad. Toss well and serve immediately.
Blue cheese dressing
– 1 tbsp sharp strong blue cheese
– 1 tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
– 1 tbsp crème fraîche
– 2 tsp lemon juice
In a small bowl, mash the blue cheese to a smooth paste with the mayonnaise and the crème fraîche. Stir through the lemon juice and check the seasoning. Add salt or more lemon juice if necessary.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 15, 2015 as "Seize a salad". Subscribe here.