Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where one fool of a Took emperils us all. I’m your Culinary Cave Troll, Jon O’Guin. Today’s recipe was motivated by a offhand suggestion, and a recurring weird choice, resulting in a dish that’s surprisingly consumable. If you want to skip the narrative and get straight to snacking, here you go. For the rest of us, let’s learn what exactly drove my family to make a Cauliflower Gyro.
The Definition of Insanity
Recently, a newspaper comic had an ongoing bit where a young child asks “If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome, then what makes it different than practice?” He asks it several times over the week, maybe every day (I didn’t check every newspaper this week, as I am a millennial, and thus barely know what newspapers ARE. I mainly view them as sources for crossword puzzles.)
Where I am occasionally more engaged than other times.
I bring this up to revisit a habit I’ve discussed in a couple previous posts: my habit of buying foods that I’ll “get around” to making. The most obvious victim of this mentality were the Sunchokes. However, I’ve recently received evidence that, to use the old phrase, “at least I come by it honestly”. Which means that my mother does a very similar thing. (Actually, that old phrase is kind of weird, when you think about it. It’s a pretty clear reference to infidelity AND Lamarckian evolutionary theory: The idea that you inherit specific tics or character traits from your parents, and thus, the fact that you evince the traits OF your parents rules out the possibility that you’re someone else’s kids. There’s a LOT built into that phrase.)
The point is that, in addition to, for example, planting vegetable gardens that we eat very few vegetables from, my mother will occasionally be struck (stricken?) by a whim, and decide to pick up a head of cauliflower. Wait, shit, I lost track of that sentence. She will occasionally be stricken (struck?) by a whim, and buy something she thinks we SHOULD use, eventually, and this most recently applied to several heads of cauliflower. It’s not like she buys cauliflower EVERY time. No, this is a relatively new variety of the same ongoing impulse.
The idea, in theory, was fairly sound: “We should eat less meat, because it’s not healthy to consume the amount of meat we do, and it’s not great for the environment.” Thus, the head of cauliflower, to be used as a meat substitute. We’ve talked about this before, but Cauliflower is a great meat substitute. You can make it into breaded steaks, or give it a sweet and spicy sauce, it’s the powerhouse of the Brassicas. Which are like the Ashleys from the show Recess, in that they’re a wide array of different domineering figures in their field who happen to have the same name.
I suppose the logical end of that methaphor is for me to one day reveal that MY first name is also Brassica, and to join my sisters in a sort of vegetal cultural outreach.
The plan was theoretically sound, a word I was certain had another H for some reason, but ran into a great many issues in practice. Heads of cauliflower are kind of unwieldy, so we used the party fridge to store it. (The “Party fridge” is a reference to the fact that my family bought a relatively inexpensive fridge/freezer back in September to replace my brother’s, which had broken. It’s the reason I was basically late to my own birthday party.) BUT, then one of our chickens became ill, and needed nest in the house for much of the day, impeding access to the party fridge. On top of that, between my play, the sick chicken, Nate’s play, and a series of minor illnesses running rampant through the house, it was difficult to muster the energy to look up ways to incorporate a new recipe for Cauliflower that would appease three VERY different palates. How did we succeed? Well, the secret is in simplicity.
A Cauliflower Cottage Industry
Turns out my mother was NOT the first person to have this idea. Indeed, MANY people have said “we should eat less meat, and cauliflower’s like, big enough to feel like real food, while not being broccoli”. In the last 3-4 months, I’ve seen at least 7 different recipes for “Roast an entire head of Cauliflower in SPICE MIXTURE X, and serve.” I’m pretty sure I saw a Cauliflower in Mole recipe in there, which technically means we’ve reached the “but what if we added Chocolate?” phase of culinary innovation with the dish.
A phase bacon entered a decade ago, and never truly recovered from.
And we may talk about those recipes more later, but the core of the roasted cauliflower recipes I see is…honestly, insultingly simple: Take a head of cauliflower, trim the stem leaves, and the stem/core, coat it in SOMETHING, and roast it for 20-60 minutes, depending on heat and other stuff. That’s it. It’s like trying to claim you have “a recipe” for steak when you just throw “whatever spice mix was cheapest” on it before grilling. That’s not a recipe. That’s barely an outline. But hey, sometimes you don’t need more than an outline, as none of my English professors have ever said, and in fact graded me quite harshly when I attempted to use the argument to explain missing essays.
So, eventually, we cobbled together enough time and interest to get the plan off the ground. We’d make a Mediterranean-inspired spice paste to coat the cauliflower, and make gyros! This had the added advantage of letting me make TWO recipes, which helps me feel less like a fraud when my recipes are really simple. So we got to work, and IMMEDIATELY hit a snag.
The Course of True Lov(age) Never Did Run Smooth
We were using a recipe from Tasty.com, shown here, which, for the record, pulls a move very reminiscent of an O’Guin. Either, like Nate in the Bang-Bang Cauliflower post, they screw up and wrote 2 tablespoons of salt in the video for their recipes instead of 2 teaspoons, OR, they pulled a Jon move, and rewrote their printed recipe to match customer complaints after the video was released. Could go either way.
I see you, Tasty.
Anywho, the base of the spice paste recipe calls for tahini, an ingredient I have mentioned literally twice on the site before, and one of those was a passing reference to an event I’m about to describe to you (Time gets…weird, when you make recipes long before you write their posts) . It’s a mixture of ground toasted sesames. The easiest parallel you can think of is probably “Middle Eastern Peanut Butter”, because it’s another toasted paste of ground nuts.
At some point in the fairly distant past, I had got it into my head to make homemade hummus, a recipe I have YET to tackle, because every time I think It’s time, some other group posts a new “ultimate hummus” recipe that somehow takes EVEN MORE TIME than the last one. (Currently, no joke, the winner takes about 25 hours. Which, sure, 24 of them are just “have a pot of water sitting in a corner of the stove”, but still, that’s over a day of waiting to START cooking, which with THEN taken another hour.) So it’s been sitting on my shelf for a while. Which is why, when I opened it, I found this.
(I thought I had a picture of the stuff still in the can, my bad for the weird set-up.)
In case you don’t know what you’re looking at, that is a crap-ton of sesame seed solids. This is something you run into with like, Natural peanut butter: over time, the solids will settle to the bottom, and push the oil to the top. So when I cracked open that relatively old can of tahini, the bottom inch of the can was now a solid brick of tightly packed flecks of ground sesame, and the top 2-3 inches were all the oil. I was completely flummoxed, and my first attempt to stir them back together cause me to overpower and splash the oil on my shirt.
Luckily, a quick 10 seconds on Google told me A: as long as it smelled fine, this wasn’t a problem, and B, how to fix it. (The answer is: “Use a blender. Don’t waste your time trying to do it by hand, if it got this bad, just toss it all in a blender and go.” )
At which point it looks like a really unappealing smoothie.
And once you’ve got your tahini re-pasted, it’s time to tend to your cauliflower. Technically, you could have done this first, but since it’s one of two steps that requires real effort in the recipe, I wanted to cover the drama of “holy shit my tahini has betrayed me” first. As I noted earlier, tending to your cauliflower is just a matter of prying off the leaves and cutting out the stem and core. You won’t do this for every recipe, but you do for this one because you’re meant to separate the finished product into florets. The only thing that makes this step remarkable on my cauliflower is that it had the most prominent stem I’d ever seen. Which is fine, we don’t stem-shame here.
Stems come in all shapes and sizes.
My chickens loved the cauliflower leaves I threw down to them. Once your cauliflower (and, not for nothing, but I have had to stop myself from writing “cabbage” SEVEN TIMES so far this post. I’m not used to referring to cauliflower as a “head”.) The next step is preheating your oven, and then doing your next step of actual effort: thinly slicing a couple cloves of garlic. This is going to look a little weird (like I did that time I tried to shape my hair into a pompadour; luckily, no pictures exist of the faied follicle experiment) since you’re going to stir the sliced garlic into the paste, but it makes sense on a chemical level: the more you cut garlic, the more cell walls you damage, and the more compounds react to oxygen, creating garlic’s potent pungency. In short, the smaller you chop garlic, the spicer it gets. So clearly thinly sliced garlic is used here to hit a specific level of garlic punch. Once done slicing, it’s time to make the paste. The paste consists of a bunch of tahini, some olive oil, and a spree of spices: Chili powder, cumin, garlic powder as well as the sliced garlic, salt, turmeric, and Paprika. Now, as we’ve covered before, paprika comes in several varieties, so just saying “paprika” in a recipe isn’t super helpful. Thus, my family chose to mix hot, sweet, and smoked paprika together, to cover all our bases.
Covering your bases with paprika may lead to skin irritation.
Get some parchment paper on a baking sheet, slap on your stemmed head of cauliflower, and slather on your spice paste. It’ll be thick and a lighter auburn brown, like a clay-rich mud. The recipe doesn’t explicitly say, but we made sure to hit the inside and the bottom with the paste as well, to really get the flavors everywhere. Then it goes into a 400 degree oven for 75 minutes.
Which is thankfully more than enough time to make home-made tzatziki. We’re running a little long, so I won’t dive into the history or etymology of tzatziki today, but I will give you the recipe and basic outline: Tzatziki is a Greek yogurt dip and sauce typically served with grilled meats. It’s pretty basic, consisting of yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, lemon juice, and herbs. You can technically make it in under 5 minutes…but it won’t be a very good example of the dip, as it’ll be too watery. To fix that, you just need to drain your yogurt and cucumbers for 30 minutes and 10 minutes, respectively.
Though I strive to give shredded cucumber as little respect as possible.
Once your wet bits are merely moist, you stir everything together. In a perfect world, you’d let it sit for a while in the fridge, melding flavors. But we don’t have time for that here. The cauliflower comes out, roasted and smelling freaking awesome, and you cut it apart with a knife, and load it into pita bread with the tzatziki, and more veggies if you like. Lettuce and tomato would work, whatever you put on a normal gyro. Personally, I just cranked it out and chowed down. In fact, I would say my biggest complaint was the speed at which I ate it, as I think our pitas needed a minute or two of toasting to really mesh with the overall dish.
You can’t see it, but this pita just straight-up tears rather than folding.
But other than that complaint, and some tutting about the tzatziki not being perfectly balanced (likely due to our lack of melding time), the meal was a rousing success. The cauliflower is soft in a way that’s hard to compare to anything, but still feels like real food. And the spices are quite good on it. Combined with the cool yogurt sauce, it’s a solid backbone for more experimentation and additions. All in all, a solid offering. Now if only we’d stop buying carrots we don’t eat…
Normally this is where we’d have links to our social media and so on, but our chicken is actually in deteriorating condition, so I don’t have time to add EVEN MORE links to this thing, so I’ll put them in Thursday’s post if I have time, and if not, well, you can check last week’s posts, I’m pretty sure I did them there.
THURSDAY: JON DIVES INTO NETFLIX’’S NEW FOOD SERIES, STREET FOOD, AND TELLS YOU WHETHER IT’S A KILLER KABOB, OR AN AWFUL ALOO.
MONDAY: JON QUENCHES HIS THIRST FOR POWER, AND LITERAL THIRST, WITH A RECIPE AND DISCUSSION OF HORCHATA.
1 head of cauliflower, stemmed and cored
½ cup tahini
3 tbsps olive oil
2 tsps turmeric
2 tsps paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 tsps salt
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Tzatziki sauce (see below)
Sliced cucumbers and/or tomatoes
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix together all components of the spice paste, stirring until mostly smooth.
3. Place the head of cauliflower on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and coat with the spice paste. If desired, coat insides and bottom of cauliflower with the paste. Place into the oven, and roast for 75 minutes, covering with aluminum foil half-way through roasting.
4. When done, remove from the oven, let cool slightly (5 minutes or so), and then cut head into florets, chunks, or wedges.
5. Fill pitas with cut cauliflower, along with tzatziki, and other desired toppings.
Makes 3 cups tzatziki (roughly 12 servings)
2 cups plain greek yogurt
1 cup diced or shredded cucumber
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped dill, mint, parsley, or other green herb
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the yogurt in a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, and let drain for 30 minutes, or up to 3 hours. While yogurt is draining, toss cucumber with a pinch of salt, and let sit on paper towels for 10 minutes to also drain.
2. Wring out excess moisture from the cucumber, add cucumber and yogurt to a bowl and mix with all remaining ingredients to combine. Serve immediately, or let sit in your fridge for up to a day before serving.