Deep fried, crispy cauliflower florets are staple food in Middle Eastern cuisine. In Lebanon they are the one to go for dish on meatless days. Served with a squeeze of lemon, and dipped in a creamy, garlicky tahini sauce, they never disappoint young and old. Meatless days bring along full platters of golden, crunchy French fries, adding glory to this deliciousness. Just imagine all that crispiness, crunchiness, and creaminess placed in the centre of the table waiting for you to dive in. Fantastic! Why not combine cauliflower and tahini in one dish turning it into an extraordinary tajen el arnabeet? Let me first count the benefits of both cauliflower and tahini.
Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower are loaded with antioxidants and are known to lower the risk of cancer. They are packed with anti-inflammatory properties, vitamins, minerals, and fibres. Tahini paste, too, is a rich source of vitamin B and E, and essential minerals like magnesium, iron and calcium. Made of roasted and ground sesame seeds, tahini is not only nutritious, but also very flavourful.
How to prepare cauliflower
Cauliflower is very easy to prepare. I love it for its versatility, as it can be prepared in several ways, in so many different recipes. Whether raw, cooked, roasted or fried it is always tasty and delicious. Fried cauliflower florets are the real thing, but as much as I love them, I avoid them most of the time in my kitchen. My roasted cauliflower florets are all the same, crunchy and delicious.
How to cut cauliflower
As little oil is used to roast cauliflower, it is very important to have lots of flat surfaces on your florets. That way, you will ensure a direct contact on the baking sheet and an even heating process. Always cut the florets in halves or in quarters depending on the size. For this recipe you will need a small to medium cauliflower (about one kilo). It usually yields about 700 g florets.
Combining two recipes in one
In this special recipe I am preparing roasted cauliflower in tajen. Tajen should not be confused with Tajine, the famous Moroccan lamb-vegetable stew that is slowly cooked in a special clay pot. In Lebanon and part of the Levant tajen is a spicy creamy sauce made of tahini that is added to lots of cooked onions and some fish pieces, and then baked in the oven. Garnished with roasted pine nuts, it can be served hot or at room temperature as part of a mezze, or on its own.
My mother often made fake tajen by substituting the fish with canned tuna. No one could really tell the difference for the key to a creamy tajen sauce is the amount of onions used, the more the merrier, camouflaging the little fish or in this case the tuna used.
When you are a cauliflower fan (who isn’t?) and you like tahini sauce, you will definitely like my take on tajen with cauliflower florets.
Tajen Arnabeet – Cauliflower with Tahini
- 1 medium cauliflower about 700 g florets
- 2 tablespoons pine or cashew nuts
- 1 medium onion cut in half-moon slices
- ¼ teaspoon chilli flakes
- 100 g tahini sauce
- 100 ml cold water
- 50 ml lemon juice
- 2 small garlic cloves crushed
- Salt black pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Sunflower oil
- For the florets: Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven at 220°C/425°F
- Rinse cauliflower florets and drain in a colander. Cut bigger ones into halves or quarters. Tap dry and transfer onto the prepared sheet. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, drizzle with 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil. Toss florets with your hands to coat them with oil, and spread them in an even layer.
- Roast in the upper half of your oven for 15 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Use tongs to turn over the florets. Return to oven and continue roasting for another 15 minutes, or until tender, caramelized and crispy on the edges. Place the florets in one layer in a 24-cm round baking dish
- For the tarator: In a mixing bowl add tahini sauce, water, lemon juice, garlic and ½ teaspoon of salt, and whisk until smooth and creamy. Add a bit of water if too thick.
- For the tajen: Preheat oven (200°C/ 400°F). In a small frying pan heat 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil over medium heat, and sauté nuts for about 3 minutes until golden in colour, stirring all the time. Remove onto a plate.
- In the same frying pan sauté the onions and chilli flakes for about 5 minutes, or until wilted and slightly brown. Remove from heat and pour in the tarator and stir to coat all the onions. Evenly pour the creamy sauce over the roasted florets in the baking dish.
- Bake for about 20 minutes until the sauce is golden brown on top. Transfer onto a serving platter, garnish with nuts and parsley and serve hot or at room temperature with Arabic bread.