Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower With Lemon Tahini Sauce

Nearly a year has gone by since my last blog post and so, so much has happened in this time. It was a very difficult year for me in many senses, but 2016 was also a spectacular one in many others. I very tearfully and with much trepidation ended the longest relationship I've ever had, moved house twice, travelled to a total of eight countries, and shared countless meals with people I love and care about. One thing has remained a constant in my life, though, and that is my eternal love of food. And so it is after months of being away that I return to share another recipe with you...and a few travel pictures. 
This recipe for tender, yet crisp roasted cauliflower drizzled in creamy lemon tahini sauce just happens to be inspired by one of my last trips of the year that brought me to Israel. Admittedly, the Middle East wasn't exactly at the top of my list of places to visit, considering how often it makes headlines for violence and terror, but it was equally somewhere I'd always wanted to go. The Cradle of Civilization just has an irresistible ring to it. So when a friend suggested a trip to sunny, warm Tel Aviv with a bit of exploring the region to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, my interest was piqued. Let the adventure begin, I thought! 

And so it did. We were chauffeured around in a rundown taxi van across arid landscapes, bobbed in the salty Dead Sea, kneeled in the place where Jesus was thought to have been born, and arrived at the Western Wall just as Shabbat was beginning and the sun was setting on the Temple Mount. We stayed out dancing at a local bar until the place closed down only to wander through the old town and sit in the harbor until the wee hours of the morning.

But no trip is complete without some culinary adventures as well. And I must say, we ate like kings there. One of my favorite stops was the Carmel Food Market in Tel Aviv. We came through in the morning and got freshly pressed juice and pastry, checking out the various vendors lining the street that sold everything from fresh produce and spices to tea, nuts and olives. I made a mental note to come back later for a proper meal at one of the food stalls and was not disappointed.

After a day of beach and roaming the city streets, I was served up this unassuming plate and a beer at one of the stands that had bar seating around its edges. Just a few bites in, I knew it was a dish that I needed to recreate at home. It hit this perfect flavor balance for me, came together so fast, and was made with ingredients that are nothing but healthy. The earthy spices and creamy tahini give the dish this really comforting, hearty flavor, but the cauliflower itself is so light and tender and the lemon leaves a delightful tangy brightness on your tongue. (It also pairs amazingly with beer I might add! :)

Much to my delight, my first attempts at recreation were surprisingly successful. Even though the tahini paste here just doesn't seem to live up to the same standards, the flavors and colors of this dish are glorious and vibrant. I have also taken to sprinkling toasted almonds on top, because apparently I don't know how to leave a recipe be. You can take it or leave it, but I find it adds a nice little something crunchy.

Since no post of mine would be complete without a little nutrition talk, I'll quickly run through some of the great things about eating this:
  • Cauliflower: Besides being low in calories, the veggie is high in vitamin C (immune system), a good source of fiber (heart health), potassium (heart function and muscle contraction), vitamin K (strong bones and blood clotting), and folate. It is also a member of the brassica family of veggies (think kale and broccoli) that is known for its cancer-fighting properties thanks to its sulforaphanes and indoles.
  • Turmeric: This bright yellow stuff that stains everything happens to be part of the ginger family  and is known for alleviating arthritis and joint pain and promoting liver health thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, which are supposed to come from the curcuminoids that it contains.  
  • Tomatoes are celebrated for their anti-cancer or phytochemical properties as well (specifically prostate but also lung and stomach cancer) thanks to a compound called lycopene, which our body can absorb even better when consumed with fats, such as those in the almonds and tahini paste, since it is a fat-soluble nutrient. Lycopene also protects the heart from oxidative damage, and helping to reduce the risk of a heart attack and when used as an extract has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Plus it contains the carotenoid lutein, which promotes healthy vision by preventing macular degeneration.

Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower With Lemon Tahini Sauce
Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time:  20-25 min. 
4 side servings

1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets 
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 rounded tsp. turmeric  **Handle carefully. This stuff stains things easily**
1 tsp. ground cumin
Salt (to taste)

3 Tbsp. Tahini 
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tsp. water (to thin the mixture)
Salt and pepper (adjust to taste)

1/3 cup sliced, toasted almonds
About 3/4 cup of diced cherry tomatoes
Sesame seeds (black or white)
Parsley (for garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F. In a large bowl, toss cauliflower florets, oil, turmeric, cumin and salt together until everything is evenly coated. (Side note: Since the size of cauliflower varies so greatly, use these measurements as a starting point. If the florets look too dry, add more oil, but don't worry if the color is pale, because the yellow deeps dramatically during baking)
2. Spread cauliflower out evenly on a rimmed baking sheet so that the florets have some space around them. This ensures they roast and the moisture they release evaporates instead of steams them. Bake until the cauliflower begins to brown, about 20-25 minutes, taking them out and turning them to ensure browning happens on multiple sides.
3. While the cauliflower is cooking, mix together tahini, lemon juice and 1 tsp. water. At first the mixture will thicken and separate, but if you keep mixing it will turn into a smooth sauce.  Add additional water until you have the desired consistency. The sauce should be thin enough to drizzle. Season with salt and pepper according to taste.
4. Plate cauliflower, drizzle tahini sauce over the florets, top with tomatoes, and garnish with sesame seeds, toasted almonds, and chopped parsley.  

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