This recipe is one I make quite often at this time of year. But it is only one of many things that can be done with the humble cauli. Appropriately frugal in both expense and calories, winter cauliflower is a fairly magical vegetable. With little effort the pretty pale curds can be transformed into a credible mashed potato and rice substitute (paleo-adherents love this brassica), as well as being an equal partner in the UK’s number one comfort food, cauliflower cheese. I and others also like it tossed in a little oil and lemon or balsamic vinegar then roasted to golden perfection in a hot oven. And soon I will be posting how to make this vegetable go from pale to pukka in just a few ingredients.
But first, my go-t0 cauliflower gratin. Maybe I am stretching the definition of gratin a little here, what with the absence of gooey sauce and the accompanying calories and fat. But there is cheese and it does bubble, so technically I think I can just squeak this one. The real change up is the tapenade. Toss the steaming-hot ivory florets, pure as the driven snow, with this sassy sauce and you have food begging to be eaten straight from the dish. Certainly saves on the washing up.
We had this yesterday as a light lunch in full knowledge of the Yotam Ottolenghi Lamb Sharwarma (from his latest, Jerusalem) feast to come. It was the perfect veggie lunch – filling yet light, with plenty of punch from the olives and coriander. Despite the magnificence of the evening meal (I can say that as I followed his recipe to the letter), my cauliflower and green olive tapenade gratin was no slouch. If you were having it as a main evening meal you could heft it up with shreds of cooked chicken, frazzled and crumbled butchers’ bacon, or as a side to grilled fish. Vegetarians, as opposed to flexitarians, might want this with some cooked white beans mixed right in, adding more tapenade as needed. Entirely flexible.
I have sneakily not included the word ‘coriander’ in the recipe title, despite it being packed with the stuff. To be honest, this frondy, parsley looking herb provokes great hatred in some. Possibly you are such a hater. Coriander, or cilantro to my US kin, is the very definition of a love-it or hate-it food. Haters describe it, variously, as tasting of soap (the kindest detraction), “metallic dirty sock water”, “rancid chocolate”, squished stink bugs (Mr A’s opinion, before he was converted). Leoweekly has an amusing article and indeed a reasoned explanation for the hatred (it’s the aldehydes, apparently). Not so the out and out ihatecilantro. No reason: just damnation, a health warning and 1500 followers.
Cauliflower too has its detractors, but at least they know they are wrong How can you truly hate something you can cover in cheese sauce and yet still has loads of Vitamin C (if not boiled to death), B vitamins, fibre, cancer-fighting sulforaphane and indole-3- carbinol, and can substitute for rice or potatoes if you aren’t too picky? And at only 25 calories per 100 grams of the white stuff, a bit of added tapenade and cheese still makes a lower calorie meal. Not that we care about these things, of course.
Coriander also has nutritional goodies (blood sugar lowering, cholesterol balancing, bacteria-zapping), but as the word coriander comes from the Greek, koris, meaning bug, some folk are always going to give it a body swerve.
What healthy food do you absolutely hate? Do you have ways of making it more acceptable? Or do you loathe it beyond reason? I hate hazelnuts and can’t even abide them in Nutella (the Devil’s toast spread of choice), if that gets the ball rolling…
A few sliced green olives (optional)
Steam the cauliflower florets for eight minutes for a cooked but still firm texture. Pop these into a wide, oven-proof dish, stir in the tapenade and scatter over the cheese, seeds, pepper and extra olives. Pop under a medium-hot grill – about 8 inches away – until the cheese has melted and started to brown a little. Drizzle over a little extra tapenade (slaken with a little water or more oil) and serve immediately as a side dish for 6, or a light lunch/supper for 4.
Coriander and Green Olive Tapenade
Juice of half a juicy lemon (just over 2 tbsp)
Put the first four ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and blend for one minute, scraping down the sides as needed. Pour the oil and lemon juice through the ‘feed tube’ and process until just mixed (a few seconds). Makes one jarful. Can be frozen.