Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini-Lemon Sauce: a Middle Eastern Vegan Classic

Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini-Lemon Sauce: a Middle Eastern Vegan Classic

Recently at our restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen, an Indian couple bringing their kids back to Athens for the start of the UGA fall semester were looking for strictly vegan, plant-based food. I conversed with them as they settled on falafel wraps. However, though the falafel, pita bread and hummus are vegan, the typical condiments include a yogurt sauce and feta cheese. I said I’d make them some tahini-lemon sauce as a non-dairy substitute. They were delighted with the food, and their kids, who are vegetarian rather than vegan, will be coming back, they said, to eat at our place frequently.

Photo: Maria Dondero; Plate: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
I had forgotten how easy making that classic sauce is. It took me half a minute. The taste of the sauce, as I checked it for salt, took me back to a stunning Lebanese appetizer, or “mezze,” I had years ago where you dip deep-fried cauliflower pieces into that same sauce. I learned after that introduction that the cauliflower can be lightly oiled and roasted, rather than necessarily deep fried. Either way it’s a great dish.

Tahini (sometimes spelled “tahina”) is a puree of sesame seeds. It’s available at whole and health food stores, Middle Eastern groceries, and even at some supermarkets. “Cortas” brand, from Lebanon, is of very good quality. Mix the hummus in the jar so separated oil and solids are evened out.

Here’s how I make the sauce and roast the cauliflower for dipping in it. The recipe serves six or more as an appetizer.

Make the sauce first. The cauliflower should be cooked shortly before eating and served hot.

The sauce:
3 tablespoons tahini
5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk all together in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Taste, and add a little salt or lemon juice if desired.

The cauliflower:
1 medium head of cauliflower
3/4-1 teaspoon salt, depending on the size of the cauliflower
1-1/2 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil
About 1 tablespoon finely minced “Italian” flat parsley for garnish

Remove leaves and thick stem from cauliflower. Cut the rest into similarly sized (1- to 1 1/2- inch) flowerets, each with a piece of stem. Rinse and drain.

Shortly before cooking, in large bowl sprinkle cauliflower with half of the salt and toss. Repeat with the other half of the salt and toss. Drizzle with the oil. Toss well to moisten evenly.

Spread cauliflower out on baking sheet and roast in 375-degree oven 10 minutes. Stir and turn cauliflower pieces. Return to oven and roast until golden in a few places and cauliflower is becoming tender.

Arrange still-hot cauliflower on a platter or shallow serving dish. Accompany with a bowl of the dipping sauce, lightly dusted with finely minced parsley.

Alternately, in the more modern style, smear a platter with the sauce, then arrange the cauliflower pieces over the sauce. Sprinkle with minced parsley.

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