One of the things that I love most about cooking is the spontaneity of ideas and inspirations, how one thing can lead to something entirely new and surprising.
Last Sunday I felt an odd compulsion to pickle (as one does). So I looked around the kitchen shelves and in the fridge to discover some perfectly pickle-worthy beets and cauliflower. Being a complete rookie pickler I turned to my favourite cook books for advice, and have found what I was searching for in Honey and Co’s cookbook, which, I have to shamefully admit, remained under-explored up to this point. They had just the perfect recipes for both – a cinnamon infused sweet beets and cumin and turmeric bathed cauliflower, both with a decent hint of chilli. There is something slightly mad-scientist-like about the process that gives a child-like joy of playing around with ingredients, mixing up odd concoctions, sterilising jars, and leaving the mysterious mixture to work its magic over days. The excitement of opening that jar after the required period has passed is pretty special, more so when the final product is oh-so-good. The alchemy of pickling prompted an urge to create a meal that would complement my debut creations. You can’t just pickle and forget about it, if you know what I mean. So here’s what I have done:
The pickled beet makes a perfect starter course when combined with a yoghurt-dill-sumac dip. All it takes is a mix of 5 table spoons of Greek yoghurt with 3-4 pinches of sumac, a finely chopped handful of fresh dill and an addition of garlic-infused olive oil with a teeny pinch of salt. Yum! The rich and sharp flavour of sweet-cinnamonie-slightly-bitter-bayleaf beets works magically well with the creamy refreshing and slightly tangy presence of the dip.
The pickled cauliflower called for more cauliflower on the table. So I made some whole-roasted ‘steaks’. Again the method could not be more simple.
Take a small cauliflower, discard the leaves and cut of the bottom stalk (although there is this great no-waste tendency to roast the entire veg as it is, I am yet to master that skill). Place the cauliflower on a sheet of tin foil, in a cup mix some olive oil, sea salt, toasted and ground coriander and cumin seeds, and smother the veg in that mix. Wrap it in tin foil and bake on 200C for about 40 minutes. The two types of the same veg work really well as a duet and can be brought together even closer with a sweet potato-tahini dip, as an option.
An all time favourite alternative to and cross between humous and mash, this dish is a regular on my table. Use two large sweet potatoes. Cut in 4 wedges, smother in olive oil and season with sea salt and a bit of cinnamon. Bake on 250C or as high as your oven can go, until perfectly soft and slightly candied. Once it has cooled down, remove the skin and place in a food processor with 1/4 to 1/2 jar of tahini and a very generous glug of olive oil+an equally generous pinch of salt. Blend until it reaches a silky smooth consistency. This paste is amazing on its own with any kind of bread but also as a base for the cauliflower ‘steak’.
I was pleasantly surprised how my unplanned pickling compulsion turned into a beautiful, delicious feast which I have enjoyed with my friends and quite a few glasses of red.
And the best thing about this experience is that the jars of pickles are still half full and will last a while (if I let them) and there’s a bit of sweet potato-tahini dip waiting for me in the fridge, so without further ado I will have to indulge myself in a little late-evening snack.