Usually served as part of the salatim (meze) that open a restaurant meal, this dish is nothing more than cauliflower oven-roasted till it's sweet-crisp and smothered with tahini prepared with fresh green herbs. But it's also everything more, surely one of the highest callings of the queen of vegetables. At restaurants, it comes out in little bite-sized bowls; when you make it yourself, it can be the star of the show, plus you don't have to annoy your waiter with an unceasing need for replenishment. It's my standard potluck contribution, and it usually goes fast.
How to Roast Cauliflower for the Salad
For this dish, you want the cauliflower to be in smallish-medium florets. It's kind of a Goldilocks situation. I start by quartering a head of cauli, then prying apart the florets with my hands. If any are too big at that point ( like the guy in the bottom left-hand corner above), I'll give them another chop.
Then, all you have to do is drizzle the florets with a little oil, sprinkle salt right on top, and into the oven they go. Because you want your cauli to be on the softer side, caramelized with crisp edges, I like to roast it at 375F (190C) for about 35-40 minutes. A lot of recipes that call for oven-roasted cauli direct you to roast it for a shorter time at a higher heat, but I get consistently great results with these numbers. The kind of results where people keep asking me for my amazing recipe and I have to be like, "Um, olive oil, salt, forty minutes at 375."
How to Make Green Tahini
So, a quick tahini referesher: The stuff you buy at the store that's labeled "tahini" is raw tahini. In its raw form, tahini is the Middle East's answer to peanut butter, eliciting a similar, put-it-in-everything cult devotion, and possessed of a similarly wide range of applications running the gamut from full-on savory to dessert sweet. In its "prepared" form, tahini is a savory, saucy condiment and a critical component of hummus. It can serve as a dip for most anything, a condiment for pita sandwiches, as a sauce for simmering meatballs or meatloaf (siniyeh), or as a dressing for cold or warm vegetables. It's thinned to various consistencies, dependent upon its intended mission. Here's we're making a run-of-the-mill, medium-thick prepared tahini with the addition of finely minced fresh green herbs.
Green tahini can be made with all parsley, all cilantro, or a blend of both, which I recommend. I also go light on the garlic--I find that in the US both tahini and hummus tend to be made with way too much garlic--but if you're a fan, feel free to add more.
Though I often use an immersion (stick) blender to make a batch of regular prepared tahini, for green tahini, a food processor is needed to get the herbs very finely minced. Start off by pulsing the herbs together, but don't worry about getting them into tiny bits yet, that'll happen as you whir in the other ingredients. To the work bowl, you'll add the raw tahini, lemon juice, salt, and garlic.
This is the Unmitigated Disaster stage of preparing tahini, when it looks like you've just poured some nice, probably not-too-cheap tahini out of the bottle only to make it into a horrible mess with liquid floating on top. I promise you're about 30 seconds away from beautiful, savory tahini. Pulse away until everything is combined and looks pretty again. Okay?
Well, now you're going to ruin the tahini all over again. Add the cold water (I use water from my fridge dispenser) to the work bowl and relive the moments of doubt. Pulse again, and there you'll have it: perfect, medium-thick, herby tahini sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. I'm a salt fiend, so I'm probably not to be trusted on this, but don't under-salt tahini, that would be tragically tasteless.
Finishing the Salad
To assemble this dish, place the roasted cauli in a mixing bowl, pour about half the tahini over top, then stir gently, but well, to combine. Assess the sauce situation--you want the cauliflower to be saturated in tahini but not swimming in it. Add more, a little at a time, till you've got it the way you want it. (If you have any tahini leftover, you can pour it over practically anything or dip some pita right in. It'll last a few days in the fridge.)
Topping the cauli with pan-toasted pine nuts is a good idea, but not a requirement. If you like, toss about a tablespoon of pine nuts into a frying pan lightly misted with oil, over low heat. I like using a larger pan than I need so I can arrange the pine nuts around the perimeter and away from the hot spot in the center, like in the picture on the top left. You've got to watch these little guys carefully, because they'll go from deliciously toasted to burnt in a hot second. Keep stirring them around, even if it doesn't really look like they need it. It only takes a minute or two to toast pine nuts over a low flame.
Best eaten at room temperature, you can serve this cauliflower warm or chilled--but not hot. The tahini needs to inhere in all those nice cauli crevices, you know?
Roasted Cauliflower with Green Tahini (parve)
- 2 heads cauliflower
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
For the green tahini:
- ½ cup raw tahini
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves - bottoms of stems removed
- ¼ cup parsley leaves - bottom of stems removed
- ¼ cup ice water
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice - from ½ lemon
- ½ tsp garlic powder or minced garlic - or more, if you like
- 2 tsp salt - or to taste, but don't put too little!
Optional, for topping:
- 1 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Roast the cauliflower:
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Using a chef's knife, cut each head of cauliflower into quarters. Remove the thick parts of the stems, then pull the florets apart by hand. If any large florets remain, cut them apart with the knife.
- Place the florets in an even layer on the prepared sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil, then sprinkle with salt.
- Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until softened and beginning to darken at the edges.
Prepare the green tahini:
- While the cauli is roasting in the oven, prepare the tahini: Cut the bottom stems off the cilantro and parsley. Reserve a few leaves for garnish, if you like, and place the rest in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chopped (they do not have to be finely minced yet).
- Add the tahini, ice water, garlic, and salt to the work bowl. Pulse several times, until well combined and creamy.
- Finally, add the ice water to the work bowl and pulse again until all the water is incorporated.
- Check the tahini for seasoning and consistency, adding more garlic or salt, to your liking, and more water if you prefer.
Assemble the dish:
- To finish, place the hot, roasted cauliflower in a large mixing bowl. Add about half the tahini and stir with a rubber spatula until the cauliflower is evenly coated. Add more tahini, a little at a time, until the cauliflower is well covered but not swimming in the tahini sauce.
- Top with toasted pine nuts, if using, and garnish with the reserved herbs. Serve warm or cold, but not hot.