Sunday, October 03, 2010

Fried Cauliflower: Calling an "Entree" by the Correct Name

Trendy American restaurants are getting better at their terminology. It used to be that main dishes in this country were called "entrees." But in culinary French, "entrée" literally means an entry dish, or first course, something that opens the dinner. The main dish in French is simply called "le plat," the plate.

Increasingly here, what used to be termed "entree" is now, more appropriately, called a main or "large" dish." What in French is called an "entrée," and frequently here was called an appetizer, now tends to be called a small dish or starter.

I guess that's progress.

Here's a real starter course specialty, a classic small dish. It's from the Lebanese-Syrian tradition, a "meze" or "mezza," one of the small dishes served before the main course. Or, if you're lucky, you can have an entire meal of many different meze, a real treat.

This dish is amazingly tasty despite its apparent simplicity. I first had it at one of Atlanta’s early Lebanese restaurants, the Bahou Container, sadly long gone. The method used in this recipe is direct frying, or baking, of the cauliflower pieces. Some recipes call for par-boiling before frying, and some use breadcrumbs or even batter on the cauliflower. I suggest a tahini sauce, like I first had with the dish, but sauces based on seasoned yogurt are also used.

Sautéed Cauliflower with Tahini-Lemon Sauce

The sauce:
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste, available at Middle Eastern and health food stores)
6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Sumac, paprika or finely minced parsley for garnish (sumac is available at Middle Eastern groceries)

The cauliflower:
1 medium-large head of cauliflower
Oil (such as canola) for frying or roasting

Before cooking the cauliflower, mix the sauce. In a small bowl place tahini and beat it with a whisk until smooth. Add the water and whisk it in. The tahini thickens somewhat, at first. Whisk in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and, if necessary, add a little salt to make the sauce slightly salty.

Rinse cauliflower. Remove leaves and thick stem and cut the rest into similarly sized (1 to 1 1/2 inch) flowerets. In a large bowl, lightly sprinkle cauliflower with salt and toss; salt lightly and toss twice more.

Heat a frying pan with oil about 1/2-inch deep. When hot, fry cauliflower pieces, part at a time, turning often, until golden in places. Do not over cook. Remove to paper towels to drain excess oil.

(Alternately, toss uncooked cauliflower with several tablespoons olive or canola oil, after the salting process. Place on baking sheet and roast in 375 degree oven 5 minutes. Stir and turn cauliflower pieces. Return to oven and roast until golden in a few places.)

Arrange still-warm cauliflower on a platter or shallow serving dish.

Accompany with a bowl of the sauce, lightly dusted with sumac, paprika or finely minced parsley.

Diners can either dip the cauliflower into the sauce or place cauliflower pieces on their plates and spoon sauce over them.


Blogger HomeHappy said...

Thanks for sharing. My mouth waters at the thought of anything from the Bahou Container.

8:03 PM  

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