There’s brown on the ground, brown on the barks of the trees, and no green on bare trees yet. Sure, we’re lucky to live in a place with plenty of firs, whose branches look like long green arms. But honestly, in winter, it can feel a little like those arms are throwing rorschach blots on the sky. Right on target, I’m longing for some sign of spring.
(We’re back to the time of year when And Then It’s Spring feels like the only book worth reading, for the reminder. It will appear, someday.)
Still, when it’s May, and we’re sitting under the blooming cherry tree for a tea party, I might just have a smidge of longing for cauliflower again.
It’s such a humble vegetable, the cauliflower. It’s white and plain and calls no attention to itself. (The wild purple cauliflower of summer and the neon-green romanesco are the far more flamboyant cousins of winter white cauliflower.) For years, I didn’t pay it much mind. Now, cauliflower is starting to look like a white room, free of clutter and anything on the walls, cleared out so you notice the light more.
Cauliflower can crunch and frizzle if you roast it crispy. It makes a surprisingly delightful pizza crust, if you aren’t expecting it to be a blistered crust with air pockets straight out of a Brooklyn wood-fired oven. It’s a humble little vehicle for prosciutto and olives. (Or pineapple, if you are Lucy.) We cut each head of cauliflower into tiny florets and sauté it with slivers of kale and broccoli, with olive oil, for a breakfast hash with fried eggs. (Lucy does not approve. Is there a kid who truly loves cauliflower? All power to you, if you have that kid in your house.)
The other day, Danny and I were sitting side by side at the giant table in our kitchen studio. In fact, it was the first time we ate together at that table. It felt good. After lunch, we lingered a little instead of jumping up to work. Our phones were on the other side of the room. We flipped through a food magazine and noticed. “Oh, harissa! That’s a good idea. Hey, what about baking that instead of sautéing it? Oh, I’ve been wanting to play more with preserved lemons. Let’s try that.” We have these half-conversations, of pointing and few words, touching each other on the arms, and nodding. Danny found a recipe for cauliflower fritters. We both bent our heads down toward the page. They were a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, from Jerusalem.
We should make those, I told him.
I stood up to move toward the computer and finish a piece I was writing. When I closed the lid of the laptop, I looked up to see Danny at the table again, phone out. Cauliflower fritters.
The next night, we made them again, for a dinner with friends. As our friend Laura said, “Is there anything with the word fritter attached to it that is not wonderful?” After dinner, our friend Joe laughed, “I think I must have eaten two heads of cauliflower.” They approved.
Oh, plain white cauliflower with its lovely possibilities. You’re making February palatable.
Cauliflower Cumin Fritters, adapted from Yotam Ottlenghi’s recipe in Food and Wine, February 2014
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
We chose to make these fritters with a combination of almond flour and arrowroot starch, roughly in a ratio of 2 to 1, which is our favorite all-purpose flour right now. That made the final fritter puffier than the one we saw in the magazine. Rather than flat, bumpy pancakes, these fritters are airy and light, the fried batter matching the texture of the blanched cauliflower.
Feel free to use whatever flour combination works best in your kitchen.
1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
90 grams finely ground almond flour
50 grams arrowroot starch
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
4 large eggs, at room temtperature
about 4 cups frying oil (we use pure olive oil)
Set a large pot of salted water on high heat. When the water is boiling, add the cauliflower florets. Simmer until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Drain the water and set aside the florets.
Whisk together the almond flour, arrowroot starch, parsley, salt, cumin, pepper, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, and turmeric in a large bowl. Add the eggs and whisk to make a smooth batter the consistency of thick pancake batter. If the batter feels too thick, add cold water, a bit at a time, until the batter whisks easily.
Plop the warm cauliflower into the batter. Mash the florets a bit with the back of a spoon. (Don’t make them pulp!)
Set a large pot over high heat. Pour in the frying oil. When the oil has reached 375°, spoon about 3 tablespoons of battered cauliflower into the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pot. Danny put about 7 or 8 fritters into the pot at a time. Separate the fritters from each other. Cook for about 3 minutes, then flip the fritter.
Drain the fritters on paper towels. Serve them hot.
Like her cousin did years ago, Lucy likes to play the sniffing game with us. She pulls spice jars from the drawer, opens each one with gusto, and pronounces, “Mmmm. This one smells great!” She’s come to love turmeric and curry powder. She has always loved dried basil. But her very favorite spice, by far, is cinnamon.
The kid has good taste.
We adore cinnamon around here. Rather than relegate it only to holiday baking, we put it in our herbal tea, roast chickens with coconut oil, cinnamon, and a hint of vanilla, and put a pinch of it into most anything we cook. It’s bright, with a hint of spice, and good for the palate. (And for our health.)
Long ago, I stopped buying ground nutmeg. Microplane, meet whole nutmeg. Everything tastes better when I tap a few scrapes of fresh nutmeg into the dough. And yet, it never occurred to me to grind cinnamon fresh.
After we grated the Saigon cinnamon from Cinnamon Hill onto buckwheat crepes with fresh ricotta, we were convinced. I’m never using ground cinnamon again.
You might not have grated fresh cinnamon before either. We’d like to introduce you to Cinnamon Hill, our latest sponsor, with answers from its founder, Rupert Beeley. And seriously? Buy some of this cinnamon.
Cinnamon is the inner bark of the branch of a bush or tree. We get our Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka and our Saigon cinnamon from Vietnam. These are the two finest cinnamons in the world. We go there every year and choose the best sticks, which we then wrap individually to preserve their freshness. Ceylon cinnamon has a warm, citrusy aroma whereas Saigon cinnamon has a hot, distinctly sweet taste.
Why do you sell cinnamon in stick form with a special grater? Why not just sell ground cinnamon?
The unique taste of fresh cinnamon comes from its natural oils. Cinnamon loses a lot of these oils during the industrial grinding process, under the heat generated by the whirring blades. To avoid this, some spice brands use a cold process called cryogenic grinding (ugh!). We don’t go for that. We like natural things. Nothing can be more natural than grating fresh gourmet cinnamon at the table. That’s why we designed this special grater – so that you get the very best of the taste.
What are the health benefits of cinnamon?
There is a lot of evidence that cinnamon reduces blood sugar levels (which is why many diabetics use it daily) and also lowers bad cholesterol. More generally, cinnamon is a good alternative sweetener and helps people to cut down on sugar and lose weight. In the US it is thought of as a “Fat-Buster” whereas in Europe and Asia it is better known as a “Super Spice,” helping against various ailments. You can only be sure of these health benefits if you’re using fresh, pure cinnamon.
Are there any downsides to using cinnamon?
There are occasional internet conversations, generally very ill-informed, about the health risks of coumarin. This is a natural flavouring which occurs in many plants, including cinnamon. It occurs in negligible concentrations in Ceylon cinnamon but in higher concentrations in Saigon cinnamon. In large doses it can cause liver damage in a small group of particularly sensitive individuals.
As well as offering a new, tasty, real food for you to try, we want to offer you a cinnamon that is without doubt gluten-free. Some brands specify that their ground cinnamon is gluten-free but most brands don’t. This is because flour is sometimes mixed with ground cinnamon to protect it from caking. If you grind whole cinnamon at home then you don’t need to worry. And if it’s fresh cinnamon, you unlock this fantastic goodness and baking flavour.
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