Every time I interview a chef, they say exactly the same two things: “I am passionate about cooking” and then: “I like to use seasonal and fresh ingredients”.
And so I should hope. It would be a pretty poor interview if chefs said: ‘Cooking’s alright, I suppose’ and even more so if they announced: ‘I like to cook with elderly, low quality ingredients and cheap stuff from tins”. Even the bad chefs you see on those ‘Nightmare’ shows, the ones with fegging Tupperware boxes full of rotting matter, also talk the talk: “I like to cook fresh, authentic and seasonal” they say, before opening a pantry filled with flyblown carcasses and piles of decomposing cabbage.
Maybe this is drummed into chefs at cookery school, maybe the white jackets they wear have little speakers which are activated during every interview to say: “seasonal and fresh”, or most probably, it is because chefs know that it makes perfect culinary sense to cook what is at its seasonal best, and not to keep ingredients hanging about too long.
People who are not chefs, might sometimes have to deal with tired, or even plain knackered ingredients. Whether this is the result of wanting to cut down on food waste, or bone idleness, or a fondness for a challenge -occasionally we need recipes which can cover up an ingredient’s shortcomings.
Today I went head to head with a cauliflower. It was only two days old and yet it looked as tired as I generally feel. Its florets were soft and slightly droopy. The leaves which I clipped to feed to the rabbit were yellowing and withered. It was a run-down middle-aged cauliflower -not quite past it, but very nearly. I felt a great affinity to this elderly brassica and I wanted to give it a makeover.
When vegetables are a bit past it, usually the best option is to create something which does not rely on texture, and to pep up weak flavour with some exciting spice. Inspired by Zaalouk, a traditional Moroccan aubergine and tomato salad dish, I decided to give cauliflower the same treatment. Mashed cooked cauliflower is stewed with olive oil, tomato and garlic and then revved up with paprika, cumin, chilli and lemon. You can use it as a dip, and scoop it up in pieces of pita, or make quenelles out of the mixture and serve as part of a salad platter.
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets.
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and diced
120ml olive oil
1 small bunch chopped coriander (or parsley, if you hate coriander)
2 teaspoons paprika (unsmoked)
2 teaspoons ground cumin (do not use the whole seeds)
1 tsp chilli powder
Sea salt and black pepper
Juice of one lemon
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Place the cauliflower in the water and boil it for around 10 minutes, or until soft. Drain, return the cauliflower to the pot, and mash until it is a slightly lumpy mush.
Meanwhile, cook the tomatoes and garlic in half the olive oil, over a low heat, for around ten minutes. The tomatoes should be soft and the oil starting to separate from the sauce. Mash the tomatoes and garlic until nice and smooth, then add to the pot of squished cauliflower.
Pour in the remaining olive oil, the spices, half the chopped herbs and the lemon juice and stir through. Return to the stove over a low heat. Keep it going for another ten minutes, stirring from time to time. Taste and add salt and pepper. If you think it needs more lemon, add a little more to taste. Finally, remove from the heat, give it one final mash, then stir in rest of the chopped coriander or parsley. If you are feeling artistic, drizzle a little olive oil over the top with some sprinkled herbs. If you aren’t, don’t worry. You have given a tired old cauliflower a magnificent Moroccan makeover