I know we just talked about how meditative cooking can be, but it was all I could think about while making this warm cauliflower salad, so here we are. Sometimes, life throws you for a loop, and in those times, there’s nothing more comforting to me than retreating to my kitchen, pulling my apron on and getting to chopping. (Other than possibly turning on a Harry Potter movie marathon, but my apartment is basically one room so in this case, I can do both!)
I’ve used cooking to deal with the loss of a loved one, to get over a difficult break-up, to dull the sting of a setback at work. Cooking is often how I unwind after long days — the chopping and sauteeing and stirring a salve for whatever troubles I faced that day. There’s something wonderful in the mindlessness of it, and in the knowledge that if I chop cauliflower into bite-size pieces and roast it with a bit of olive oil, crushed pepper, salt and lemon at 425F, I’ll pull out a delicious dinner every time. At least this outcome is guaranteed, this small win, on those occasional days that feel like a string of little losses.
Some recipes are better for meditative cooking than others. Recipes with a few different steps, layer upon layer of activity (and flavor!), that allow you to spend a bit of time focused on nothing more than a delicious dish. Regina Schrambling’s Dijon and Cognac beef stew certainly fits the bill, but this warm cauliflower salad does too. There’s a fair amount to do here: toasting almonds, roasting cauliflower, brining dried cranberries, making a dressing. None of it is difficult (which is also key to meditative cooking — you want simple, mindless steps, nothing that takes you out of your zen), and each step builds a tremendous depth of flavor for something that is technically “health food.”
The recipe started as a cauliflower slaw from Smitten Kitchen, and I first made it as a part of our Christmas Eve dinner. There are a few picky eaters in my household, so we made a bunch of changes: cooking the cauliflower instead of leaving it raw, swapping out the capers for chopped green olives, using dried cranberries instead of currants, swapping out the sliced almonds for walnuts. One day, I’ll make the original recipe as written (fried capers? Sign me up!). But this hacked version was so good that I immediately added it to my roster of repeats, a hearty salad with enough zing to snap you out of your winter blues.
Because the steps are fairly separate, the recipe is flexible enough that you can make it on a busy weeknight: toast the almonds and brine the cranberries first (you could even do this before work, if you have the wherewithal / time in the mornings. I do not.), then chop the cauliflower and swap them into the oven as soon as the almonds are done. Slice the olives while the cauliflower is roasting and whip together the dressing quickly at the end. However, if you have a few hours, it’s fun to take your time, slowly chopping and tossing and letting it all go, if only for a little while.
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 2-pound cauliflower, cut into florets
- a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- a lemon, quartered
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped green olives (I went with a full cup because I love olives -- you can do more or less depending on your tastes)
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
- Scatter the almonds on the baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes, until they are a deep golden color, tossing the sheet once or twice to ensure even cooking. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- In a small bowl, combine the white wine vinegar, salt and cranberries. Let them soak while you prepare the other ingredients (about 30 minutes).
- Increase the oven temperature to 425F. Toss the cauliflower florets with one tablespoon of the olive oil, the crushed red pepper flakes, the juice from one quarter of the lemon, and salt and pepper. Scatter them on the baking sheet, then roast for 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway, until they are a deep golden-brown.
- In the bottom of a large shallow bowl, whisk together the chopped parsley, juice from the remaining three-quarters of lemon, the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper.
- Once the cauliflower is out of the oven, let it cool slightly, then add the warm cauliflower to the bowl with the dressing. Add the toasted almonds, cranberries (drain them first) and the chopped olives. Toss, and taste to adjust seasonings. Serve warm, topped with additional parsley if desired.
- If you want to make this more of a main dish, you could also add a cup of cooked quinoa at the end. (I would have, but I didn't have any ... #womp.)