More Vegetables

Three Ways to Use Miso, Cauliflower, and Pickled Peanuts

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I love plants.

My hair is healthy enough, but it doesn’t shine. My skin doesn’t glow; in fact, it’s craterous in places, like my mother’s. I lack energy, and my relatively small frame always feels heavy, weighed down by something intangible. I fall asleep at inappropriate times, and yet I don’t sleep at all. I feel ill more days than I feel OK, and I cannot count my doctors on two hands. I don’t absorb nutrients.

So, like bad lovers from my younger years, plants have given me nothing, but I’m still attracted to them. Vegetables—when thoughtfully prepared—are my favorite food group. Did you just unsubscribe?

I spend a lot of time thinking about what Americans eat—how our incomes force us to eat, where our food comes from and who gets it from field to plate, how folks shame fat but not sugar, how society demonizes and diminishes intolerances, how food can heal. I choose not to tackle those questions here, because my central agenda is to have no agenda. But these are the issues that sometimes cross my mind when my fork hits the plate. (Sometimes I’m too busy stuffing my big, hungry face.) And I’m certainly opinionated about them. Lucky for me, vegetable-forward cuisine is hot right now, and restaurant chefs are using vegetables in bold new ways and putting them in the center of the plate.


Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I can reveal just a little bit about how I eat, however—the food life of the author. If it had a tinder bio it would read as follows:

omnivore | seafood lover | ice cream enthusiast | eats everything that’s tolerated (regrettably, restrictions apply) | says no to processed food | will get you to eat your vegetables [insert winkie face and sprout emojis here]

I wasn’t one of those kids who wouldn’t eat her vegetables because, although my family lived paycheck to paycheck or worse depending on the year we’re talking about, my parents never served a veggie from a can—with the exception of Mexicorn, the festive (and not-at-all Mexican) jubilee of bell peppers and corn that was ubiquitous in the 90s—so I didn’t know that vegetables could be wan, bland, and watery. Vegetables were color, and kids like colors. I don’t write this with my nose pointed to the sky, though. We weren’t fancy, and I certainly ate crap—frozen chicken patties (I still crave chicken patty, melted Land o’ Lakes American, cold iceberg, and hella mayo on a bulkie roll every once in a while), boxed brownies, and Ore Ida fries come to mind first. But our vegetables were always fresh and abundant, and I never struggled to finish them. My Iranian father knew nothing other than fresh veg, so canned saltbombs or out-of-season produce would be an insult to his sensibilities. When you’re years and oceans removed from your home, food is an easy connection to the familial. His cuisine, though also very meaty, influenced the abundance of vegetables on our plates: multicolored summer vegetables charred along with kebabs on the grill, green stews, simple salads of cubed tomato, cucumber, and red onion, dressed in lime juice and olive oil. I was lucky.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

So, yes, I’d like to think I am qualified enough for you to right-swipe me on the claim that I can “get you to eat your vegetables (and like them, dammit!),” because I have loved them for life. And I think we should be eating more of them. The rest of your diet? Do what you want. I ate a whole chocolate bar yesterday, so I don’t really care.

It’s hard to tout the value of vegetables for others when your own flesh and bones don’t feel their benefit. But perhaps my use of them is even more sincere or authentic because I’m doing it only for their taste (sweet, earthy, mineral-y, or bitter), their texture (neither grain nor animal flesh can cover as wide a range of textures as can vegetables), and their provenance (support your local farmers, people). And the cooking techniques you can employ to create these deep flavors and complex textures are many—essentially all that you can do with heat and ingredient: raw, boil, braise, sous vide, sauté. Here we bake, roast, and sear.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Because I’m indecisive, three recipes follow. I tested all three and planned to develop my favorite of the bunch for this post, based on a desire I had to 1. see if pickling peanuts worked (it does and it’s amazing), 2. combine miso with cauliflower because it worked so well in a dish I had a couple of years ago at Alden & Harlow, and 3. make a complete, filling plant-based or plant-heavy meal; unfortunately, I fell for all of them and so will make you choose your own adventure. But it’s an interesting progression that shows the versatility of the plant.

1. The first recipe (Pan-Seared Cauliflower with Sweet Potato–Miso Chickpea Puree and Sherry-Pickled Peanuts) is a completely vegan main course. It’s very filling and balanced: you have all the fiber, protein, and healthful fat that you need at dinner. Chickpeas, caramel-y baked sweet potato, umami-enhancing miso (a boon in vegan cooking), and a little sherry vinegar for acid blend together for a creamy, sweet-salty-sour nutrient-packed base for a cauliflower slab that’s seared like steak until browned and meaty-tasting. I don’t like the idea of cauliflower steaks mimicking steak-steak and I hate succumbing to trends, but they are one of my favorite vegetable preparations, and they’re plate centerpieces nonetheless. A sweet-spicy-syrupy mix of pickled peanuts bring lively interest to the white vegetable, and scallions add onion-y freshness.

2. The second recipe (Pan-Seared Cauliflower with Miso-Honey Compound Butter and Pickled Peanuts) is vegetarian, not vegan. Without protein-boosting puree it’s more fitting as an appetizer or a hearty side dish. Or pair it with your sides of your choice for dinner. It’s topped with the same peanuts and scallions and a melting dollop of rich miso-honey butter—like the compound butter for your steak.

3. Finally, in another appetizer, snack, or side (Roasted Cauliflower with Miso-Honey Butter and Sherry-Pickled Peanuts), I simply roast big florets of the cauliflower, toss them with the peanuts, and serve them on a creamy bed of miso-honey butter (mmm, butter bed), topping it with more butter.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Make one or try all three. Go vegan or vegetarian for a night or two a week. Fuel yourself with vegetables. Explore techniques. Cauliflower, a smelly cruciferous vegetable can be the most delicious treat when prepared in these ways. Imagine what you can do with other, less divisive vegetables.

Pan-Seared Cauliflower with Sweet Potato–Miso Chickpea Puree and Sherry-Pickled Peanuts

Serves 4 as a main course

The puree can be eaten warm, room temperature, or cold, but for dinner, I like it best warm or room under the warm cauliflower steak. The puree is also great on it’s own as mezze. For a stronger garlic taste, use the two cloves.

1 head cauliflower
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 baked sweet potato, still warm
1¼ cup cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons miso (I used chickpea miso but anything but red miso would work)
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Sherry-Pickled Peanuts (recipe follows)
Chopped scallions

1. Position oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Trim stalk of cauliflower to base of florets. Cut cauliflower into roughly 5/8-inch-thick (anywhere between 1/2 and 3/4 inch is fine). You should get 4 intact slabs; the remainder will crumble into florets. (Save florets for another use.) Trim any green stems or leaves from around the stems of each floret, keeping steaks intact. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat oil in 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add cauliflower and cook, without moving cauliflower, until brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Using thin metal spatula, carefully flip cauliflower, transfer skillet to oven, and cook until cauliflower is tender but still has bite, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, scoop sweet potato flesh from skin and process with chickpeas, miso, and garlic in food processor until thick and completely smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. (This can take up to 2 to 3 minutes for the most luxurious puree.) Add sherry and process to combine. Divide puree among 4 plates. Top each plate with 1 cauliflower steak and sprinkle with peanuts. Pour a little bit of the peanut pickling syrup over each steak. Finish with scallions and serve immediately.

Pan-Seared Cauliflower with Miso-Honey Compound Butter and Pickled Peanuts

Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer

1 head cauliflower
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons miso
1 teaspoon honey
Sherry-Pickled Peanuts (recipe follows)
Scallions

1. Position oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Trim stalk of cauliflower to base of florets. Cut cauliflower into roughly 5/8-inch-thick (anywhere between 1/2 and 3/4 inch is fine). You should get 4 intact slabs; the remainder will crumble into florets. (Save florets for another use.) Trim any green stems or leaves from around the stems of each floret, keeping steaks intact. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat oil in 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add cauliflower and cook, without moving cauliflower, until brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Using thin metal spatula, carefully flip cauliflower, transfer skillet to oven, and cook until cauliflower is tender but still has bite, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, mix butter, miso, and honey until combined. Top each steak with miso butter and sprinkle with peanuts. Pour a little bit of the peanut pickling syrup over each steak. Finish with scallions and serve immediately.

Roasted Cauliflower with Miso-Honey Butter and Sherry-Pickled Peanuts

Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 head cauliflower, cut into 2-inch pieces.
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons miso
1 teaspoon honey
Sherry-Pickled Peanuts (recipe follows)
Scallions

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, heat oven to 450 degrees, pour oil on aluminum foil–lined rimmed baking, and place on rack. When oven comes to temperature, add cauliflower to sheet and season with salt and pepper. Cover pan with foil and cook cauliflower until browned, about 20 minutes. Flip cauliflower and continue to cook, uncovered, until tender and browned all over.

2. Spread 3/4 of butter on plate (yes, just do it). Pile cauliflower on top of butter, sprinkling with peanuts as your go. Drizzle with peanut pickling liquid, top with more butter, and sprinkle with scallions. Serve immediately.

Sherry-Pickled Peanuts
Makes about 1 cup

The peppercorns soften during cooking. Do not remove them; their intense pops of spiciness makes this recipe. If you cannot find coconut sugar, substitute 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/3 cups sherry vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup peanuts

Bring vinegar, water, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, and salt to boil in small saucepan, stirring occasionally. Add peanuts, reduce to simmer and cook until peanuts soften and pickling liquid thickens and coats peanuts, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer peanuts and pickling liquid to clean jar, removing garlic cloves. Let peanuts cool completely, then refrigerate until ready to use. (Peanuts can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

One response

  1. These are mouth watering. I too was brought up loving vegetables……vegetarian in fact. I’ve diversified since but can still happily eat a vegetarian meal without feeling deprived.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: