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With a Middle Eastern Flair

by Jane Worthington-Roth

The secret to a good meal is starting with the best ingredients. They don’t have to be expensive or organic, but they have to be good. For vegetables, the best choice is always fresh from a local farm. Take the lowly cauliflower. For some reason I can’t quite understand, cauliflower has become the new popular vegetable. You see recipes for cauliflower-based everything from a stand-in for mashed potatoes to even cauliflower pizza crust. (I haven’t quite bought in to that idea yet.)

My husband and I recently ate at a Lebanese restaurant where their best-selling dish was fried cauliflower. I have to admit, it was perfect – absolutely delicious – so I had to ask our waitress what they put into it. It’s fried cauliflower. That was it! The secret to making it delicious was starting with a locally grown vegetable that had lots of flavor. Luckily for us, cauliflower has a long growing season, available at local farmers’ markets from August through November.

Here’s my rendition of the Middle Eastern fried cauliflower with a tahini dipping sauce. Once you try it you might decide it’s your favorite cauliflower recipe as well. A half a cauliflower serves two people as a side dish. If you want to serve this as an appetizer, double the recipe.

Fried Cauliflower with Tahini Dipping Sauce

½ cup tahini
1 clove garlic, crushed
juice of one lemon, divided
½ head of cauliflower
½ cup cornstarch
peanut oil (or deep-frying oil of your choice)
sea salt

First prepare the dipping sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together: ½ cup tahini; 1 clove of garlic, crushed; 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice; and ½ cup water. Blend well and set aside.

Cut a half head of cauliflower into small bite sized florets. If damp, dry the cauliflower well with paper towels. Any residual water will splatter in the hot oil, so it must be perfectly dry.

In a large cast iron skillet with high sides (or deep fryer) heat about an inch of peanut oil to 350 degrees.

Place the cauliflower florets into a large plastic bag, add ½ cup of cornstarch and shake well to distribute. Remove from the bag shaking off any extra cornstarch.

Carefully place about half of the florets into the hot oil and fry for about 5 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the hot oil with a slotted spoon (or spider) and set on a paper towel. Sprinkle with some fresh lemon juice and sea salt.

Continue frying the rest of the florets, then set them on the paper towels and season again with a little lemon juice and sea salt. Toss well and serve immediately.

If you’d like to spice it up a bit, toss the fried cauliflower with a little sprinkling of Aleppo pepper and ground cumin.

Since the cauliflower is so mild, it doesn’t impart a strong flavor into the deep-fry oil. To save the oil for future use – let it cool down completely, strain it through a fine mesh sieve and store in a lidded glass jar (large canning jars work well).