Cauliflower is like a blank canvas to a painter. It is not the most exciting vegetable. In Britain, cauliflower is mostly dressed in a cream sauce. Sicilians smother it with chopped anchovies, saffron, currants and almonds and doused it in olive oil. Moroccans put it in tagines. Greeks combine it with tomatoes and dill. Cauliflower can be anything but bland with the right treatment.
It can take on other exciting flavors, like dukkah, and be instantly transformed into food that grabs your attention and imagination. With the oven turned up to 425°F roasting temperature, the cauliflower florets get very browned. I have seen them become almost entirely charred in restaurants. You know, before you opens the oven door, by the aroma from the spices wafting off the caramelized cauliflower, that the dish is going to be amazing.
The word “Dukkah” is derived from the Arabic for “to pound” since the mixture of spices and nuts are pounded together after being dry roasted to a texture that is neither powdered nor paste-like. It is an Egyptian spicy mixture consisted of hazelnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and salt and pepper. Since I have all the nuts and seeds ingredients in the pantry, it’s just a matter of “pounding” them in a spice grinder or a mini food processor. Turn them into a ground mixture to the consistency of very coarse cornmeal. Viola, you’ve just made your home-style version of dukkah, which is gaining popularity in the US. I found this wonderful recipe in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.
The flavor of the spices are best released by toasting them. This may sound like a time consuming task to toast each kind of nuts and seeds separately. Coriander seeds take longer to brown than cumin or fennel seeds. You don’t want to burn them. The key is to get all the ingredients line up and ready to go. It doesn’t take long, just minutes, for all the nuts and seeds to be toasted evenly. In the end, you have dukkah for dressing up roasted vegetables. It can also be made into a dipping paste with olive oil to be served with baguette or pita bread. Or sprinkle it on eggs for breakfast. Any extra dukkah will keep for about a month when stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
In my opinion, this recipe is about making dukkah as it is about roasting cauliflower. Having a well stocked pantry, with all sorts of spice mixture, condiment, sauce and pesto, encourages experimentation and sparks creativity in the kitchen.