A Real Winner: Seared Cauliflower Steaks with Salsa Verde and Almonds

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Some people collect cars, for others it is playing golf, for me, it’s barbecues. I don’t collect them per se but rather I cook with them. Their value isn’t termed by condition but in hours of use. Much like a cast iron skillet I can gauge the worth of a good smoker by the black patina that coats its inside. While many men might spend their weekends under a car, I prefer to smell like hickory rather then gasoline and motor oil. It’s how I get my kicks.

So you can imagine my excitement to I discover I won a Big Green Egg! Yea, I won. I never win anything but Debra Smith at SmithBites pulls my name from a hat of entrants and I win, I never win.  Nevertheless, it is like getting the Most Improved trophy in grade school.  I sort of treat it like that, it sort of looks like that and I couldn’t be any happier then to be a proud owner of one.  Hell, I park it in the garage if that tells you anything. I don’t even put my car in the garage, the garage is for my tractor, and now the grill.

Cauliflower SteaksThe whole time I am assembling my grill I think about what I am going to cook first.  A steak, a brisket, venison, burgers, pork chops, butt steak, I go through all the possibilities and my head spins in anticipation.  The dogs look on with concern for my well being,  TrixieB even comes over and gives me a lick on the face and some big sad eyes of worry.

As I said, I don’t collect grills.  I have three.  One is a smoker, that is all it does, it smokes meat, charcuterie and hams at low temperatures.  My other grill I hand made.  It is a street food kind of contraption meant to cook fast and furious.  It is for meat on a stick, small stuff that cooks through quickly.  Both serve their purpose.  So maybe I don’t consider my self an aficionado but I do consider myself an expert.  It was my station each day at the restaurant.  I worked the grill day-in and day-out for seven years.  I can cook a steak, a boneless chicken breast and any kind of fish you can imagine but, like professional ball players who sometimes hit a foul ball, I do sometimes miss the mark but rarely, and I mean rarely, do I over cook a steak.

My point being, I am excited to try what many consider to be the Mercedes of grills, the Big Green Egg but I am a little apprehensive having never used one.  Don’t think I wasn’t a little more then cautious too,  I bought a high end Wolfe stove and it’s a piece of crap, so I know just because something has a name doesn’t mean it is going to work but I have to be on my game also.  I am approaching this with a certain err of caution.

But then it hits me.  Friends often accuse me of using appliances differently then anyone else, most recently crock pots were entered as evidence into this court of opinion.  So I asked myself, “why would I grill a steak?”  It took all of a second to answer my own question, “why not sear cauliflower steaks in a pan on the grill?”  That was easy enough, decision made.

Here is why I wanted to cook cauliflower steaks.   The Big Green Egg people claim a lot of things about their grill.  You can cook pizza on it, bread, grill steaks or smoke brisket is what they say.  Which I get, it is sort of like a wood burning oven.  It is ceramic, it holds heat, and it gets very, very hot but can also hold a low temperature for a long time.  It holds a lot of promise.  So my thinking is, I want to put a cast iron pan on the heat, see how hot it gets and how well it sears.  I know, I know, you can cook with a cast iron skillet on your stove.  True, but my stove won’t impart a smokey flavor to whatever I am cooking.  And that is it,  that is what I want to find out, is what is the smoke flavor of the Big Green Egg going to be like.  It is the one character trait I am most interested in.  Will it be bitter and heavy or will it be just right.  When it comes to vegetables the right amount of smoke goes a long way.  To much and you have a very bitter ash tray kind of experience that will keep you from tasting any other part of your meal.  And seriously,  antacids are no kind of dessert.

I am not going to bore you with blow by blow cooking details other then to say the grill is great.  It lights fast, it gets very hot quickly and it imparts a great flavor to whatever you are cooking.  My cast iron casserole heated quickly, I actually thought it might get to hot and burn the cauliflower before it became tender on the inside, but it didn’t.  It cooked the cauliflower with a perfectly light kiss of smokey flavor.  Since then I have roasted chickens to great applause from the family, from me too.  A tri-tip roast delicious, pork chops amazing, cauliflower steaks a home run, and the Big Green Egg, a real winner.

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Seared Cauliflower Steaks (serves 2)

2 small heads of organic cauliflower

1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, minced

1 small garlic clove, grated on a microplane

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 anchovy, rinsed

1/4 cup Asiago cheese

extra virgin olive oil

half a cup of salted almonds, chopped

1. Build a charcoal fire for direct heat grilling in your grill.  You want it to be very hot.  Place a large cast iron skillet right in the middle of  the grilling rack.  Cover the grill.  What happens when you cover the grill is the heat builds, the pan becomes very hot and the lid keeps a little bit of smoke flavor circulating.

2. While the grill is heating make the salsa verde.  In the bowl of a mortar and pestle combine the lemon juice, garlic, anchovy, and parsley.  Beat it up with the pestle.  Add a two finger pinch of salt, a dash of black pepper and a few glugs worth of olive oil.  Stir to combine, taste and add more oil it the salsa is to tart.  Stir in the cheese.

3. Trim the stalk ends of the cauliflower.  Using a good sharp knife cut one steak each out of the center of each head.  To do this turn the floret side of the cauliflower down.  Hold it firmly and place you knife onto the stalk.  Cut through to the florets.  Roughly gauge and inch in width and make another cut leaving yourself a nice center cut cauliflower steak.  Repeat these steps with the second head of cauliflower.  Use the loose outer edges of the cauliflower for another dish.

4. Drizzle the steaks with olive oil and season them with salt.  Take them out to the grill.  If you have a thermometer on your grill it should read about 600˚ F.   Nevertheless when you open the lid the cast iron pan should be beginning to smoke and when you place the cauliflower into the pan it should sizzle.  Cook each side until of the steak until it is very deeply caramelized.  Remove the steaks from the pan.

5. Drizzle the steaks with the salsa verde, top with almonds, minced parsley and serve.

Chickpeas in a Spicy Tomato Gravy

Khatte Channe

A wonderful blend of deeply caramelized onions, spicy tomato broth and creamy chickpeas.  Khatte Channe, as it is know in India, is traditionally served with a flatbread but as it is cooked in this recipe it has lots of sauce so it makes sense to serve it with simple steamed rice and some sort of green vegetable.

I don’t like to use a lot of canned goods but beans are one that I rely on.  They are no fuss, no standing over the stove stirring or adding liquid because they are already cooked.  In fact I think this dish benefits from canned because the peas stand out by not absorbing all the gravy flavors that long cooking would have infused in them .

There is some extra expense in buying spices for the dish but if you have an ethnic grocery nearby, either Asian or Indian, you should be able to find the ingredients.  Buy the smallest amount they sell and if you like the spices and find yourself using them to make other dishes then buy bigger quantities.

The thing I really like about this dish and these kind of bean dishes is even though it is of Indian descent it still feels familiar, I think of it as soul food.  It is warm with a hint of spice and very much like bean dishes from Central America and Mexico.  The dish is comfortable.

Cost to make this meal:

  • three 14oz. cans organic garbanzo beans $1.49 each or $4.47
  • 2 large onions .74 cents
  • one 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes .99 cents
  • at my local Indian grocery an 8 ounce bag costs $3.oo dollars or 2 teaspoons .12 cents
  • 1 head of garlic .99 cents 4 cloves about . 50 cents
  • fresh ginger 3.99 per pound 2 ounces at .48 cents
  • 48 oz vegetable oil  $2.99 or 3 tablespoons at .10 cents
  • cumin seeds vary in price greatly depending on where you purchase them  1 teaspoon at .25 cents
  • my recipe calls for tamarind but substitute a 2 tablespoon of vinegar to give the dish its sourness

Total cost range is from  $7.65 to  $9.00 and if you are only serving 4 you should have a couple of lunches.

This recipe is adapted from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking.  If you enjoy Indian food her books are a must for you shelf.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

3 (14.5 oz.) cans chickpeas/garbanzos (drained and liquid reserved)

2 tablespoons tamarind paste mixed with half a cup of water (or substitute 2 tablespoon of vinegar with no water)

3 vegetable oil

2 cups yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons garlic, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced finely

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pot and then the onions.  Season the onions with salt.  Cook the onions, patiently, until they begin to brown and become deeply colored. Stir them often enough that the onions on top brown at the same pace as those on bottom.   Don’t do this to fast you want melted gooey onions not seared.  Take your time it takes a while.

2. Once the onions are browned to your liking add the garlic.  Once you smell the garlic add the turmeric and cayenne pepper.  Give it a stir then add the tamarind,  tomatoes and ginger.  Reduce the heat and let the tomatoes simmer.

3. Add 1 cup of  the reserved bean liquid along with the cumin and curry powder.  Bring the liquid back to a boil reduce the heat and add the beans.

4. Cook the rice.  

5. By the time you finish the rice the beans will be warmed through and the flavors will have come together nicely.  Taste the peas and adjust the seasoning.  Serve over the rice.

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Smokin’ Black-eyed Sandwich

Smokin’ Black-eyed Sandwich

This is a perfect example of vegetarian food that stands on its own. Not much different than falafel which has stood its ground for years. Your could in fact replace the mayonnaise with a yogurt sauce of your liking.  Something with tomato and cucumber would draw down the heat nicely. It would go well with grilled pitas too so if you wanted to you could take the whole meal and easily give it a Middle Eastern flare. When it is a sandwich like the above I really like it with crunchy shoestring fries and I have even been known to stack the fries right between the bread with the fritter for a nice crunch.

Serves 6

2 each 14 oz. cans black eyed peas, drained

1/2 to 2/3 cup rice flour

1/2 onion minced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

2 carrots, peeled and grated, about 1 cup

lettuce, shaved

vegetable oil

bread, buns or pitas

mayonnaise or you choice of condiment

1. Place the drained peas, 1/2 cup rice flour, onion, garlic, thyme, cayenne and a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and some fresh ground pepper into the bowl of a food processor. I like the mix to maintain some chunkiness but it is important for it to be fairly smooth so it holds together. Add up to 1/3 cup more rice flour as needed. So process until smooth but it doesn’t by any means need to be perfectly smooth. Add the carrots and mix, not process, them in thoroughly with a spatula. I like to let this sit for at least an hour so the rice flour has time to hydrate and thicken the mix so it stays together better. You could even cover it and refrigerate overnight. If it seems loose before you are getting ready to cook it add more rice flour.

2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and let it get hot. Form the mix into 6 balls and then shape them into patties. Fry then until crispy on both sides. Build you sandwiches and serve.

Lacinato Kale and Ricotta Tart

This tart is perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner and, maybe, all three. Lacinato is also known as Cavelo Nero or dinosaur kale. It is becoming ever more popular not only for its great taste but for its presumed health benefits too. While this has many healthy components they are just a nice side note to the decadence of this wonderful tart.

The crust for this tart uses the idea of a shortbread crust to keep it tender while using whole wheat pastry and buckwheat flours. I like to serve the tart with a fruit salad of grapefruit supremes, toasted crushed hazelnuts and mint.

SERVES 6 TO 8

For the crust::

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

two finger pinch of salt

For the filling:

1 bunch Cavolo nero, chopped, rinsed and dried, 8 loose cups worth

1 cup yellow onion, peeled, small dice

2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced

3 anchovy filets, minced (obviously omit if you want it to be meatless)

1 1/4 cup whole milk ricotta

3 large eggs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 cup water

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the whole wheat pastry flour, buckwheat, parmesan, butter and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir it with a wooden spoon until it looks like a combination of cous cous and cornmeal. You may need to rub some of the bigger pieces between you hands to break up the butter.

3. Dump the crumbs into an 8 inch tart pan. Starting at the edges press the crumbs into the flutes. Use you index finger as a back stop by placing it at the top of the flute and pushing the flour up to it. Pack the crust tightly and evenly. Once you have finished the crust bake it in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

4. While the crust is baking heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a 12 inch saute pan. Add the onions, anchovies and garlic. Season them with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Saute them gently without coloring and until they are soft. You may need to adjust the heat and you will want to stir them to keep them from coloring.

5. Once the onions are soft add the Cavolo nero and toss and stir it to coat it with oil. Season again with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Add the water and cover the pan. Let the Cavolo nero steam until tender but still vibrant in color, about 8 minutes over medium heat.

6. In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, parmesan and the eggs. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper and stir to combine.

7. Once the Cavolo nero is tender taste it and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Make sure all the water has simmered away from the Cavolo nero, you don’t want it to be to wet. Let it cool for a couple of minutes and then add it to the ricotta and stir it well to combine.

8. Carefully spoon the filling into the tart and smooth and level it out. Place the tart into the oven and bake it for 50 to 60 minutes or until set and nicely browned.

9. When the top has browned remove the tart from the oven and let it cool to room temperature before cutting. Serve at room temperature.

Gumbo Z’herbes with Yeasted Corn Biscuit Dumplings

Gumbo Z’herbes

If you know me you know I love greens.  I go to them for comfort, for quick meals and just about any reason, now that I think about it,  I am not even sure I need a reason.

There was a day not all that long ago when I would always add some sort of smoked pork or, at the very least, smoked turkey legs to the greens.  At some point we started to eat  less meat and started to enjoy vegetables for being vegetables.  Since those days of long ago I have added the pork back to my greens on occasion and each time I do I always say to myself, “well, that was a mistake.”   For me,  I have found I like greens for greens and the pork just overpowers them.

Even so there are dishes were not adding the requisite pork is damn near criminal and it might be in some states south of the Ohio River.  I thought not adding tasso ham to my Gumbo Z’herbes might be one such crime but then I got to thinking about it and I came to understand, for the most part, it is the herbs used to cure the tasso that I like.

I am sure you see where this is going.

The biscuits dumplings aren’t traditional but the gooey bottoms and crunchy tops sure are a plus in my mind.

Note: the yeast used in the biscuits is really more for the yeasty flavor then it is to make them rise.  While I am sure it helps them rise it is not the reason they rise the baking soda is.  So don’t omit the soda because there is yeast in the recipe.  Also, not only are these really good as dumplings but they are  just as good when baked as biscuits.

Serve 4 to 6

For the gumbo:

peanut oil

1 1/2 cups yellow onion, peeled trimmed and cut into a small dice

3/4 cup green pepper, membranes and seeds removed, cut int a small dice

3/4 cup celery, cut into a small dice

3 tablespoons, garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon cayanne

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper

7 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon gumbo file

8 cups mixed greens, collards, turnip, or kale, rinsed at least three times and chopped into thin ribbons

kosher salt

For the biscuits:

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup corn flour, not cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

extra flour for dusting

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart cast iron Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add enough oil to the pot to just cover the bottom.  Add the onion, peppers and celery.  Season them with salt and pepper and stir them to keep them from browning but let them become soft.

2. Add the garlic, cayenne, marjoram, allspice and white pepper.  Stir until everything becomes fragrant with out letting the garlic brown.  Add the vegetable stock and bring it to a boil.

3. Add the greens by the handful until each addition is wilted and you can add more to the pot.  Do this till all 8 cups have been added.

4. Bring the gumbo back to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer uncovered for 1 hour.  At the end of the hour add the gumbo file and stir it into the broth.  The greens will be tender and gooey.

5. Heat the oven to 425˚ F.  While the oven is heating combine the yeast and buttermilk and let the yeast dissolve.

6. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or by hand using a heavy duty wooden spoon, combine the flour, cornmeal,  sugar, baking soda, and salt with the butter.  Mix the flour with the butter until it has the appearance of coarse cornmeal.  Add the buttermilk and process until the biscuit dough is just combined.

7. You can use a small ice cream scoop, make sure you don’t sink the biscuits into the liquid,  and make a drop biscuit topping by gingerly and gently plopping the dough right out of the scoop and into the gumbo or you can turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface roll it, cut it into rounds,  and then lay these on top of the gumbo.

8. Either way be careful not to sink the dumplings.  Place the pot into the oven and bake the whole thing, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the biscuits have browned nicely.

6. Serve

The Poor Wretches Pasta


Street walkers pasta and now poor wretches pasta.  Leave it to the Italians to come up with an interesting name for their local eats.  This is Sicilian by birth.  The pine nuts and currants aren’t traditional but I like what they bring to this dish.

Eggplants are abundant at the moment.  You could take the time to make eggplant parm, moussaka or some other multi-step dish or you could keep it simple and make this.  It is simple but that doesn’t mean it isn’t flavorful.  I have made it twice already and probably will make it again.  I am not doing so because I have eggplants, and lots of them, but because I like it that much.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

good quality olive oil

2 or 3 eggplant, depending on size, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces, about 5 cups

2 cups tomato sauce

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons currants

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

16 oz. penne pasta

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil to a small saute pan.  Once it is hot add the bread crumbs and pine nuts.  Season them with salt and pepper and cook them until they are browned.  Add the currants and toss a few times.  Empty the pan into a small bowl  and let the topping cool.

2. About one hour before you start cooking put the eggplant cubes into a colander.  Season the cubes with a fair amount of salt and either place the colander in the sink to drain or in a large bowl.

3.  Place a large pot of generously salted water over high heat.

4.  While the water is coming to a boil place a 14 inch saute pan over high heat and add 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Once it is shimmering but not smoking add the eggplant.  It might splatter a little if there is a lot of water clinging to the pieces so be careful.  Brown the eggplant.

5. Add the red pepper flakes, a little more oil if the pan looks dry,  and then the tomato sauce.  Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce.

6. Add the pasta to the big pot of boiling water and cook the pasta according to the cooking time listed on the box.  Once they are done, add a 1/2 to 1 cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid to the sauce depending on how reduced it has become.

7. Strain the noodles and add them to the sauce.  Toss to combine and coat the noodles.  Pour the pan out into a large bowl and top with the bread-crumb-currant-pine-nut topping and serve.