I hate being duped. As when people say, “These black bean brownies or date/cocoa truffles or chickpea chocolate chip cookies will fool you!” I’m all about dates and black beans and chickpeas stretching themselves into baking pans, and dressing up as treats, but don’t try to pass them off as anything like the original. We’re friends. We can be honest on this.
So, with that little tirade out of the way we move on to cauliflower, the multitasking food imposter du jour. I tried in vain to make a palatable buffalo cauliflower, and my family breathed a fiery sigh of relief when I gave up. You have no doubt heard of cauliflower “rice,” made by pulverizing the florets in the food processor then cooking/steaming the whole shebang. It’s fine, but it’s not rice, and I resent being made to pretend it’s rice. However, when it comes to couscous, I’m all about pretending. After all, what is couscous but pasta pretending to be a grain? It’s such an understudy already that usurping its identity is almost a favor.
So cauliflower, come on in to my food processor and take the stage. A local Hanover High grad Ellen Jackson just came out with The Lemon Cookbook, and the Valley News published this recipe of hers. I’ve made it about four times, never entirely correctly, and loved it every time. Time #5 I actually took a picture. It’s great right away, a few hours later and the next day, and you have to work really hard to screw it up. I even made it with a bag of frozen cauliflower when the fresh stuff was going for $7 at the Coop. ($7? Do you have a hidden camera in the cruciferous section?) At any rate, all of the above makes it a Bring It all-star.
A few changes/notes, because we have to: The key to toasting the cauliflower well is ample surface area, so dig out your largest pan. (Yes, the one at the bottom of the pile. You’re a few weeks in to that beach body routine so I know you can do it.) Cauliflower heads vary wildly, and I got way more than 4 cups out of mine. I used it all, brushing that big, used pan lightly with oil and toasting the extra separately. I also don’t add the other 2 Tbsp of oil at the end of the recipe. Five Tbsp of oil in a vegetable dish puts us in the tempura range, and at that point you might as well just eat the fries you’d rather have anyway. Ok, here we go!
Toasted Cauliflower “Couscous” With Lemon, Parsley and Almonds
Makes 4 servings
- 1 (2-pound) head cauliflower, cut into small florets with ½-inch or less of stem
- 1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds or pine nuts
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided (my version uses 3, not divided)
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 small garlic clove, finely grated or minced
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (I use the curly variety because that’s what I had and I prefer its sassy attitude)
- Freshly ground black pepper
Using a food processor with either the grating attachment or blade, grate or pulse the cauliflower in batches until it resembles grains of couscous. You should have about 4 cups. You can also use a knife to dice the florets, which will easily break into very small pieces as you go. (I got more like 7 cups from one head and used it all)
In a large, wide skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, stirring frequently, until they smell nutty and are golden brown, about 7 minutes. Set the nuts aside and wipe out the pan.
Warm 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cauliflower and salt. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower pieces are toasted and tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the garlic and zest, stirring well to distribute the flavors throughout.
After the mixture has cooled slightly, add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil (or not), the lemon juice, almonds, and parsley. (While this was happening I toasted up the rest of the cauliflower and added it in. You can add a little more lemon juice to taste if you like, but it’s already darned lemony.)
Season with additional salt and pepper, and allow the cauliflower to sit for at least 15 minutes, partially covered, for the flavors to develop.
It is excellent at room temperature or can be rewarmed briefly over medium-high heat before serving.
As with the making of this salad, you have to try pretty hard to mess it up in transport. And it’s good at room temperature. Hello picnics!