I had a great conversation the other night about the difference between food preparation & the whole idea of elevating cooking to the status of something beyond just the everyday. I don't know if it is the fact I am reading (albeit slowly) Michael Pollan's new book Cooked, or if I've had just as many conversations about food in the past two years as I've had meals, but this whole topic has me more motivated than ever to keep pushing on in my small, steady way.
My brother being a trained chef, imagine his response when I told him how we are failing to give cooking the status it deserves in our culture, and that is not just as a hobby or a means to be truly great at what, in so many ways, is a true craft when elevated, but as an essential life skill. One that (to me) is as important to long-term wellness as finding a first job, or opening your own first bank account. I mean, what could be more key to long term success & survival than learning how to properly feed ourselves? In school, we teach our kids about manners (hopefully), and we (more or less) teach them how babies are made, and we even go so far as to teach them how to not make babies (equally as important), yet we offer food preparation classes as an elective, only if you choose. Kids can choose to learn basics of food prep if they want to, and if they don't? Well, they don't. If it doesn't happen in the home, then I guess it doesn't happen. I have to wonder then, how many people leave home without knowing how to cook for themselves?
What was key to our conversation the other night was this: we both clearly agreed. But while my definition of cooking refers to something basic & key to our survival, my talented food-loving brother had to make a good point. Food preparation could be the term used to describe the basics: such as cooking beans from scratch or how to cut & cook vegetables right. It is these things that should be passed on from generation to generation, and from teacher to student, sharing the basics from Gramma's classic tomato sauce to the best way to cook oatmeal.
The status that elevated cooking, or hobby cooking as it could be called (my own little term), is what happens when the next step is taken in learning the craft, and that could be the difference between 'needing' 1 vinegar in the household and 6. What motivates me more than ever is the idea of this very basic need, to share simple foods and easy meals that are simple to prepare yet beautiful and celebratory in every way. This recipe was inspired by a dressing my brother makes and serves in his restaurant, which uses one of his many subtly different choices for vinegars (he uses sherry vinegar). I used what I had, and I hope you will do the same, as no matter what you have here it's going to be amazing.
Here's a new one I'm proud of, and I do hope you enjoy. I've long wanted to try roasting cauliflower & chickpeas together and was pleased to see they are compatible in both taste, texture & cooking time. Simple. Easy. Good. Leave the hard stuff for the next level, as once you start down the rabbit-hole of the kitchen who knows where you could end up. Amen to cooking and food preparation for all. Because we are all worth it, every last darned one of us.
Roasted Cauliflower & Chickpeas with Orange-Cumin Dressing
- (1) medium to large head of cauliflower washed and cut into florets
- (3) cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed (easy cooking instructions are here, or 2 19 oz. cans rinsed under cold water)
- (3-4) tbsp olive oil
- (1/2) tsp salt & pepper
- (3-5) fresh tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes are beautiful and in season right now
- a small handful fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
Orange Cumin Dressing (courtesy of my Bro)
- (1.5) tsp cumin seeds, toasted & ground (or the same amount of ground cumin)
- (1) tsp coriander seeds, toasted (optional)
- (1.5) cups orange juice, fresh or frozen
- (2) tsp rice wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or cider vinegar)
- (1/2) tsp salt
- (1/4) cup olive oil
To prepare the vegetables, heat the oven to 400 degrees and gather 2 flat baking trays. While the oven heats, rinse and core the cauliflower, breaking the florets off into a large mixing bowl. You can use either a knife to do this or your hands, and I usually use the knife to start the heavy lifting and my hands to break the smaller pieces. This gives the finished product a gentler look.
Once the cauliflower is prepared, add the cooked chickpeas and the olive oil to the cauliflower. Sprinkle with (1/2) tsp salt & some pepper and mix well until lightly coated with oil. Add to the un-oiled baking trays and spread the mixture out into a single layer, separating the cauliflower here and there from the chickpeas. Place in the heated oven and cook, flipping here and there until the cauliflower is browned and the chickpeas are crispy, about 40-50 minutes depending on the size of the florets. Once the chickpeas are crispy and the cauliflower is brown, remove from the oven to cool.
While the cauliflower mixture cooks, toast the cumin and coriander (if using) over a dry skillet until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Grind with a mortar & pestle to a nice chunky consistency. Add the ground spices, orange juice, and vinegar to a saucepan or cast iron skillet and put up to reduce without a lid on medium-high heat. This will happen fairly quickly, but in about 5 minutes, the orange juice should be reduced to about 1/4 - 1/3 of the volume, or just over 1/4 cup of thick liquid. Remove this from the heat and place in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and mix together.
When the cauliflower has cooled a little, toss the mixture with all of the dressing, using your hands. This can set for a while to allow the flavours to settle, or you can serve it right away. Just before serving, cut up the fresh tomatoes and toss everything together, topped with torn cilantro or parsley and plenty of fresh pepper.
These gorgeous heirloom tomatoes were a little treat I got at the farmer's market, and believe it or not were not outrageously priced. So pretty to look at and even more delicious to taste!