Fried Cauliflower with Hazelnuts and Tahini

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Feed me Lebanese food several times a week and I’d be a happy woman. I tend towards the meat-free stuff and go wild for falafels, tabbouleh, baba gahnoush, hommus, and crispy fried cauliflower, yum… crispy fried cauliflower is so good.

I remember tasting fried cauliflower for the first time. My mother had taken me out to dinner, at one of the many Lebanese restaurants that line Cleveland st, on the fringe of Surry Hills. She notified me, even before we sat down, that we’d be ordering the fried cauliflower. I couldn’t believe I was yet to taste it. She’d talked it up. I questioned the idea in my head, would it be soggy? or oily? greasy perhaps? No, no,no. It was crisp, yet soft. It was lemony with a distinct sesame flavour (from the tahini). It was delicious.

If you were to follow tradition, fried cauliflower would be served as part of a meze (this being a selection of small dishes served together). But don’t let tradition stifle your creativity.  I like serving this crispy fried cauliflower with grilled white fish, usually flat head, and a simple green salad. I make extra tahini sauce so there’s plenty to drizzle over the fish too, and serve lemon to the side.

Don’t buy pre cut cauliflower, It must be whole, preferably with leaves and stalk still attached. I just can’t bring myself to buy vegetables that have been pre-cut (I know some of the nutrients have already leached out). This recipe is a cracker because it uses the whole cauliflower. There’s no waste. You won’t need to toss out the wilted left over that you find lurking in the fridge three weeks later.

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Fried Cauliflower with Hazelnuts and Tahini 

Ingredients

1 medium sized, whole cauliflower

4 tbsp roasted hazelnuts, roughly crushed

1-2 tbsp chopped parsley

500ml Grape seed or olive oil for frying

For the tahini sauce

2 tbsp tahini

1 large lemon, juiced

2 tbsp hot water

Sea salt

Cracked black pepper

Place oil in a deep, wide pan (I use my wok) and heat to frying point. Meanwhile, cut cauliflower into small florets. Check the oil is hot enough by dropping a small floret into oil, if it bubbles wildly, the oil is ready.

Fry cauliflower is small batches – so as to not over crowd the pan and ensure the oil stays hot enough to fry – for about 2-3 minutes. Turn during cooking, till all sides are golden. Remove cauliflower from oil with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper to drain. Repeat process till all cauliflower is fried. Lay out fresh paper towel and place all cooked cauliflower on top. This soak up any excess oil hanging around.

For the tahini sauce combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk till well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and cracked black pepper.

To serve, scatter warm cauliflower on a large platter, sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Drizzle cauliflower with tahini sauce, chopped parsley and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts.

Everyone loves corn fritters

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Lets face it, sweet corn doesn’t win any awards for being exotic – it’s not fancy and it’s not gourmet. But that’s part of it’s beauty – it’s a simple vegetable. In Australia, spring is the season for sweetcorn, and at $1 a cob it makes for budget cooking. And what better dish to make with your cheaply purchased corn? Corn fritters of course.

 

Everyone loves corn fritters – even my kids will eat them. Though, when serving my kids corn fritters, I have to call them “pancakes with corn”, but hey, if it means they eat something with vegetables and don’t complain about it while they’re doing it, I’ll call them anything they want me to.

 

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Why make them?

Because they’re fast and easy.

The cooked corn kernels burst in your mouth like pockets of sweetness.

They taste so good when eaten hot from the pan.

They are light and fluffy and good for a snack.

 

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Back when I could still claim to be a chef (it’s been four years since I’ve worked in a professional kitchen), every cafe had corn fritters on the menu. You could get corn fritters with crispy bacon, corn fritters with spicy chilli jam, corn fritters with smoked salmon and poached eggs… Argh… too many corn fritters. Now days, those repetitive weekends stuck behind hot stoves are just a distant memory. Corn fritters have found their way back into my repertoire. I can even smile while I make them, and eat them.

 

I’ve learnt a thing or two about corn fritters –

1. Use fresh corn, cut straight from the cob.

2.  Whisk the egg whites separately, so the batter is light and fluffy.

3. Use a high ratio of corn to flour, so you actually taste the corn.

4. Cook fritters in olive oil and butter so they get a crispy edge and cook with a golden colour.

 

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Sweetcorn and zucchini fritters – makes about 12 fritters

Ingredients

2 cobs of sweet corn

1 zucchini, coarsely grated

6 green spring onions (scallions), sliced thinly

1/2 cup wholemeal self raising flour

1/2 tsp caster sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp white pepper

2 eggs, separated

50g melted butter, plus extra for frying

1/4 cup milk

Olive oil, for frying

 

Remove the kernels from the cobs of corn, place in a large bowl. Add grated zucchini and sliced green spring onions. Add flour, sugar, salt and white pepper.

 

Place egg yolks and milk in melted butter and whisk to combine. Pour this mixture on to the corn and stir till combined.

 

In a separate clean bowl, whisk egg whites till soft peaks form. Add to corn and flour mixture and fold gently till well combined.

 

Heat a large non-stick fry pan with 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter. Cook the fritters in batches of four or five. Spoon fritter mix into pan and cook on a low heat till golden on both sides.  You can keep the fritters warm in a low oven whilst cooking remaining fritters.

 

Fritters are best eaten whilst still hot. Don’t know what to serve them with? – try avocado mash and salad.

Salsa verde – the magic green oil

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Salsa verde – ever tried it? You really must. This vibrant, rustic, green herbed sauce adds a little touch of magic, with a big touch of flavour. And serving it with a simple steak is one of my favourite ways of eating it. Though don’t stop there. In Italy, where salsa verde comes from, they serve it with fish, a grilled piece of barramundi is sublime drizzled with a little of the magic green oil. You can dress a salad of mixed leaves with it, toss it through warm potatoes, or spoon it over tomatoes with mozzarella. The possibilities are endless.

 

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Lets talk anchovies. They are a key ingredient in salsa verde. Their naturally salty flesh falls apart and oozes it’s flavour into the green sauce. Anchovies have a bad reputation with many people, I used to be one of them. But I assure you, they are delicious when used to flavour sauces. So please, please don’t leave them out. I used parsley and mint in my batch of salsa verde, as that’s what I had on hand, but basil and fresh tarragon are also good additions. Back in my restaurant days, we always made salsa verde in the food processor, which is fine if you’re in a hurry, these days I pound mine in the mortar and pestle, but also suggest chopping by hand if you have the time.

 

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Salsa verde

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tbsp baby capers

2 anchovies

1 cup roughly chopped parsley

1 cup roughly chopped mint

1 tbsp sherry or red wine vinegar

75ml extra virgin olive oil

Place the garlic, capers and anchovies in a mortar and pestle, pound to a paste. Alternatively, chop to a fine paste. Add parsley and mint and continue to pound or chop till herbs are well combined. Place in a small dish, add vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, a small pinch of salt and a large pinch of pepper. Stir till sauce amalgamates.

If time is of the essence, you can chuck everything in a food processor and pulse-blitz till combined.

Scrambled chilli tofu

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On the weekend I spent two days sick in bed. Whilst ill and delirious, I dreamt about having a personal chef. They’d arrive with a basket of fresh produce. They’d cook and prepare healthy food. They’d wash the dishes, sweep the floor and take out the rubbish. I’d certainly get them to bake a cake.

When Monday dawned, so did the reality that no personal chef was coming to my rescue. I was it. I had to get back in the kitchen. So I fried up this chilli tofu dish.

 

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One of things I love about tofu is it’s soft, silky texture.  It’s neutral taste absorbs flavour well and spicing it up with chilli, garlic and hoisin then scrambling it all together with vegetables is a vegan delight.

 

Scrambled tofu is similar to scrambled eggs and it’s excellent served on toasted sourdough. But you might also serve it with boiled rice or noodles. You can substitute other veggies – try mushrooms, halved cherry tomatoes, coarsely grated zucchini or a handful of baby spinach. In my quest to get well, I juiced fresh fruit and vegetables. Try this combination – beetroot, strawberries, celery, carrot and apple, delicious! Take that, nasty flu.

 

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Chilli tofu on toast  – serves 2

Ingredients

300g firm (but soft) tofu

1/2 red capsicum, diced

1/2 cob corn, kernels removed

1/2 cup chopped beans (1cm pieces)

1 medium red chilli, deseeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2cm pice ginger, peeled and grated

4 green shallots, sliced thinly

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

2 tbsp soy sauce

1tbsp sesame oil

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

4 thick slices sourdough or rye bread, toasted

 

Place chilli, garlic and ginger in a mortar and pestle with 1 tsp sea salt, pound till chilli forms a paste, or chop ingredients by hand till well combined. Break tofu into large chunks and sprinkle with chilli paste.

 

Heat 1tbsp sesame oil in a large fry pan, add capsicum, corn and beans, cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. Add tofu. Allow tofu to cook for 30 seconds then stir gently (over stirring will break up the tofu too much). Continue to fry the tofu and stir gently for two minutes.

 

In a small bowl whisk hoisin, soy sauce and 2 tbsp water, add to fry pan, add green shallots, stir one final time and turn off the heat. Serve scrambled tofu on toasted sourdough and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.