2015 was a banner year for the Mediterranean diet with a number of published studies linking it with important health benefits. These included lower risks for heart disease, breast cancer and depression, and improved cognitive function. And those don’t include the study published in December 2014 linking the Mediterranean diet to a longer life.
As far as I’m concerned, these results are terrific news. I’m a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes minimally processed foods primarily from plant sources; seafood; copious amounts of olive oil; some dairy, poultry, and beef; and red wine. Equally important, it values the social aspect of food, such as sharing meals and conversation with others while eating (hello, family dinner!).
All of which leads me to the recipe I’m sharing with you today. It’s a simple tapas recipe whose country of origin is Spain, one of the countries whose cuisines contribute to the Mediterranean diet. I first tried the dish at Jaleo, the Washington D.C. tapas institution, and, as is my custom when I experience something simple and delicious in a restaurant, I wanted to replicate it at home. Fortunately, I found a recipe on Jaleo’s Facebook page that I was able to use as a starting point.
The centerpiece of this tapas is cauliflower, a frequently overlooked vegetable but whose mild demeanor is a perfect backdrop for various other, more assertive flavors. In Jaleo’s version, the pieces of cauliflower are first fried in olive oil, and then some sliced olives and chopped dates are added to the pan. Everything is doused with some Pedro Ximenez, a Spanish dessert wine, and heated until the alcohol burns off, and then the dish is plated, dusted with some Spanish paprika (pimentón), and served.
Being a busy mom, I felt I needed a slightly simpler version. My tweaks included roasting the cauliflower rather than frying it (which eliminated the need for me to monitor a pan of hot oil). I also replaced the Pedro Ximenez (which I had no idea where to find) with a vinaigrette made using sherry vinegar (but any good quality red wine vinegar will do), olive oil, and a smidgeon of honey.
In my humble opinion, the end result is a nearly perfect re-creation of the version served in the Jaleo restaurants. Even more importantly, it is a terrific example of Mediterranean cuisine: the cauliflower, olives, and dates are all unprocessed fruits and vegetables; the dietary fat used in the dressing is olive oil; and the amount of the added sugar (in the form of honey) is minimal. The only thing left to make it truly Mediterranean is to enjoy it with your family and friends.
Roasted Cauliflower with Olives and Dates
There are two things to remember when roasting cauliflower. The first is to make sure that all the pieces are roughly the same size so that they cook evenly and you don’t end up with some that are undercooked and others that are overcooked. The second is to roast using high heat. This results in pieces that have the perfect combination of crispy brown outer edges and tender interior.
1 small head (about 2 lbs or 900 g) cauliflower, core and green leaves removed and the remainder broken into pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 dried dates, chopped
8 large green olives, rinsed, pitted and cut into quarters
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
sweet paprika (for dusting)
1. Prepare the cauliflower: Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Using a paring knife, remove all of the leaves at the base. Starting from the underside of the cauliflower, begin to cut off individual florets of cauliflower from around the core until you’re left with only the core. Discard both it and the leaves. Rinse the pieces in a colander under running water, shaking off any excess. Place the pieces in a large bowl and toss with one tablespoon olive oil. Spread the pieces evenly on a large sheet pan. Roast in the preheated oven for anywhere from 12 to 18 minutes. (The exact amount of time will depend on the size of the pieces and your preferences.) Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
2. While the cauliflower is roasting, make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, and salt. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil into the mixture, whisking continuously until the oil is fully incorporated and the mixture appears to have thickened slightly.
3. Assemble the ingredients: Transfer the cauliflower to a medium bowl. Add the chopped dates, quartered green olives, and pine nuts. Whisk the dressing a few times in case it has begun to separate. Pour the dressing over the contents of the bowl and toss carefully until it has coated all of the items in the bowl. Transfer the contents of the bowl to a serving dish and sprinkle some paprika over the top if desired. Serve immediately.
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