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Vegan lunch… Cauliflower Trio with Spinach and Chive Puree

Cauliflower Trio

Cauliflower is one of the most diverse vegetables around.  It lends itself to many different cooking methods and is available just about year-round.  There are about 80 varieties in North America alone.  From the same family as kale, collard greens, broccoli and cabbage, cauliflower is high in fiber, low in carbohydrates and retains a high nutritional density.  Whip it, steam it, fry it, grill it, just be sure to learn the flower!

Inspired by my love for this vegetable and an on-going effort to convince people that ingredients and flavor are the most important elements to a meal (not necessarily a heavy protein), I’ve put cauliflower front and center of this stage.  A little lemon curd provides a hint of tang and dried olives give way to a salty bite.  The flower is seared, smooth and crispy all on one plate.

 Ingredients & Method (yields 2 large or up to 4 small plates)

  • 1 large head of cauliflower cut into florets
  • 1 bunch of spinach, preferably Bloomsdale
  • 2 bunches of chives
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • 2 Tablespoons ricotta cheese (omit for vegan dish)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon picked, chopped thyme
  • ¼ cup rice flour
  • 1 egg whisked, utilizing only ½ (save remainder for another use, omit for vegan dish)
  • 2 cups canola or any neutral oil for frying
  • ¼ cup kalamata olives
  • 2 Tablespoons dairy free lemon curd (see recipe)
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • Fresno or any hot pepper, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For Dried Olives:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and place olives on tray.  Bake for about 2-3 hours or until olives are completely hard and dried and can crumble between your fingers.  Set aside.

For Spinach and Cauliflower Purees:

Blanch ¼ head of cauliflower in boiling salted water for about 4 minutes, until tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in an ice bath.  Blanch spinach and chives for about 15 seconds and transfer to a different ice bath.  Remove spinach and chives from ice bath and squeeze out any excess water.  In a small skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat.  Add sliced shallot and garlic gloves and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  In a blender combine spinach, chives, ½ amount of shallot, ½ amount of garlic, about 1 tablespoon olive oil and just enough broth to make a thin puree.  Process until smooth and season with salt and pepper.  Pass through a fine mesh sieve and set aside.  Clean blender.  Add cauliflower, remaining shallot and garlic, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a few drops of vegetable broth.  Process until smooth and season with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in lemon zest, thyme and ricotta.  Re-season with salt and pepper if necessary.  Set aside.

For Seared Cauliflower:

In a large heavy pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add equivalent to ½ of largest florets to pan, browning evenly on all sides.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from pan and set aside.

For Cauliflower “Popcorn”:

Wipe down skillet used for searing with paper towel.  Add canola oil and heat until oil reaches 350 degrees.   Meanwhile, coat remaining ¼ head of florets, preferably the smallest ones, in egg and rice flour.  Once oil is at required temperature, add florets and fry until golden brown.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towel lined plate.  Season with paprika, salt and pepper, to taste.

To plate:

Place spinach puree on plate.  Arranged seared florets as you like.  Dot plate with cauliflower puree and dairy free lemon curd.  Top with fried florets, olive crumbles and Fresno chile if desired.

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