Meatless Monday: Roasted Cauliflower Meets Tahini

For years, I was a devotee of the cold salads in the glass case at the Lebanese Taverna market in Arlington, Va. When I swing through town in early December, I’ll be sure to get my fix of Middle Eastern mezze treats, among them the arnabeet – fried cauliflower with tahini sauce.

In the meantime, I can sponge up the juices from “Olives & Oranges: Recipes & Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond,” a new cookbook by chef Sara Jenkins (daughter of cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins) and her collaborator Mindy Fox.

(Kim O'Donnel)

Here, Jenkins suggests roasting (rather than frying) the florets, resulting in a lower-fat dish with arguably more intense flavors (the cauliflower’s natural sugars like to come out and play in the oven). While the cauli roasts, you can make the tahini sauce, which takes all of five minutes with a blender or food processor. When those sweet florets meet the creamy-pungent-kinda piquant qualities (some might say it qualifies as umami, that hard-to-describe savory taste) of the tahini, something alchemical happens. You'll probably dance in your seat. This dish may just change your life.

For those interested, one cup of boiled cauliflower is a nutrient dynamo, delivering respectable amounts of protein (2.2 grams) and fiber (3.3 grams), and satisfying more than 90 percent of your daily Vitamin C requirement.

If you want to partner the cauliflower with something to make a complete meal, I’d consider fine-grained bulgur wheat, soaked in equal parts lemon juice and water, for about 45 minutes. Couscous and a short-grained rice tie are equally delicious cauli companions.

Roasted Cauliflower With Tahini Sauce
From “Olives & Oranges” by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox (KOD recipe notes in italics)


1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I omitted the extra tablespoons)
1 ½ teaspoons medium-coarse sea salt, or more to taste (In retrospect, I might have reduced salt to 1 ¼ teaspoons)
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon tahini paste
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (approximately 1 lemon)
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment (I forgot the parchment and the cauliflower didn’t stick.)

In a mixing bowl, toss cauliflower with oil, 1 ¼ teaspoons salt (this is where I might reduce salt to 1 teaspoon) and pepper until well coated. Spread in a single layer on baking sheet and roast, stirring and turning once or twice, until cauliflower is tender and crispy brown in spots, about 45 minutes.

While cauliflower is roasting, puree tahini paste, water, lemon juice, garlic and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a blender until well combined. (I added the parsley as well, resulting in a pretty light green puree.)

Remove cauliflower from oven and immediately transfer to a serving bowl. Pour tahini over the cauliflower and toss to combine.

Serve warm or let stand at room temperature.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 6, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Meatless Monday , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Mmmmm - and I just picked up some cauliflower at the farmers market yesterday. I don't have parsley on hand; what say you on leaving it out or substituting dried parsley or something else?

Posted by: Lizka9 | October 6, 2008 9:29 AM

How far in advance do you think this could be made? I'm having a party with snacky bits in a few weeks, and I'd like to add some veggies to the cheese and olives (not that there's anything wrong with cheese and olives...). Could I make it a day ahead? 8 hours?

Posted by: Eggplant | October 6, 2008 10:14 AM

Eggplant: You can definitely make this a day ahead. I'd wait till serving to add sauce. Reheat cauli in a low oven and allow sauce to come to room temp. Then pour on top of warmed cauli. It'll be just fine.
Lizka9: You can omit the parsley if you like; thinking what else might work in a pinch. I think dried oregano too strong. Maybe a smidge of mint?

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 6, 2008 11:07 AM

How long will tahini last in the refrigerator? I've had a jar there for a while but would like to try this dish.

Posted by: shirley | October 6, 2008 11:13 AM

How ironic - I just made roasted cauliflower as a side dish for dinner last night. Wish I had the idea for a tahini sauce to go with! Although I find that roasting with olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper is delish all by itself! But thanks for the sauce idea.

Posted by: sjcpeach | October 6, 2008 11:35 AM

Shirley, Tahini paste can last for months if stored in the fridge. give it a good stir and take a taste -- you'll know right away if it's rancid. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 6, 2008 11:39 AM

Roasted cauliflower is one of my favorites. It's amazing what roasting can do to all those most-hated vegetables (I'm thinking Brussels sprouts, too). Adding tahini sauce can only make it better.

Posted by: mollyjade | October 6, 2008 12:13 PM

I have had terrible luck roasting - stuff comes out pretty "meh" for my tastes. I was particularly unimpressed with brussels sprouts (mushy), not pleased with the broccoli (it was soft and bitter), and the cauliflower no one would eat but me because I won't waste food.

Kim, your recipes look fabulous and your boundless enthusiasm keeps me going back and trying, but I wish that I could taste what you're making to know whether or not it's me or my oven or what.

I'll keep trying. Maybe the sauce will kick it up for the fam.

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | October 6, 2008 1:14 PM

Would pesto (frozen now w/out parm.) work instead of the parsley? Thanks for your guidance, Kim!

Posted by: Lizka9 | October 6, 2008 2:41 PM

Lizka9: Adding pesto (even w/o parm) will add too much oil and garlic to the mix, as the tahini paste is rich in natural oils. I'd just omit the parsley and use it another time. Don't worry, be happy.
Centre: It may just be that roasting veg is not your thing. Are you roasting at 400? That's a reliable temp.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 6, 2008 2:49 PM

I'd like to add some more protein - think drained garbanzo beans would roast well at that time and temp? Also considering adding some broccoli, as I've got it in the refrigerator.

Posted by: jpv | October 6, 2008 4:41 PM

This sauce was terrible and ruined perfectly good cauliflower! What a waste.

Posted by: lemon | October 7, 2008 2:54 PM

I tried it. It was much too bitter for my taste. I ended up adding some sugar and cumin...

Posted by: alexandriamom | October 10, 2008 5:53 PM

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