Last year, my mother gifted me a gorgeous Tagine for my birthday. If you’re not familiar with this North African cooking vessel, it is a clay pot with a conical lid that captures steam in the cone, condenses the flavorful liquid and trickles the elixir like juice back down into the dish. It makes for a intensely flavored sauce and renders vegetables tender and rich in flavor. I use it all the time to create unique, flavorful dishes that are perfect with crusty bread, rice or couscous. This is the Tagine I use, although there are definitely cheaper ones out there.
This whole cauliflower Tagine is a wonderful centerpiece for the table. The dramatic presentation in lifting off the lid to reveal an entire cauliflower, steamed to perfection, drizzled in olive oil and dusted with cracked black pepper, nestled into a rich, tomato sauce flavored with Ras el hanout and studded with slivers of dried apricot is something to behold. I served it with rice and a big green salad to accompany it.
Now, if you don’t happen to own a Tagine, a dutch oven will do just fine. This dish was created by me, with help from other Moroccan recipes and my love of a good mirepoix. If you aren’t familiar with mirepoix, it’s a mixture of finely chopped onion, celery and carrot that is cooked down into the essence of flavor, and used as a base for many sauces across the globe. I am fairly lazy when it comes to chopping, and like to pulse the ingredients together for the mirepoix in the food processor, and because I am who I am, I like to add an entire head of garlic into the mix as well.
WHOLE CAULIFLOWER TAGINE
- one onion, peeled and cut into large pieces
- one head garlic, peeled
- six stocks of celery, cut into one inch pieces
- six carrots, cut into one inch pieces
- eight dried apricots, sliced into slivers
- one can diced tomatoes or one pound chopped tomatoes
- 1/4 cup Ras El Hanout*
- olive oil, salt & pepper
- one whole cauliflower
Place onion, garlic, carrot and celery in food processor with the S blade and pulse until it’s roughly the consistency of rice. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop everything by hand. In a heavy bottomed pan, drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the mirepoix mixture and turn heat to low, stirring every few minutes until it has softened, reduced and caramelized. Once the mirepoix is cooked down, add the ras el hanout*, tomatoes, and apricots and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste, and season with salt to your liking.
Ready your tagine or dutch oven. Pour the sauce you’ve prepared into the base. Unwrap the cauliflower and cut off the bottom stem so that it will settle into the sauce base. Place the whole cauliflower into the sauce, drizzle generously with olive oil and dust with salt (I prefer Maldon or Himalayan) and freshly cracked black pepper.
Put the tagine over a heat diffuser if you have one and turn the heat to low. Put the lid on, and allow to cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the cauliflower is tender and can be pierced through with a sharp knife. Try not to lift the lid off for the first 30 minutes in order to retain the steam, heat and deliciousness. If you use low heat and a diffuser the bottom of the pan should have minimal burning.
Once the cauliflower is tender, the dish is ready to serve. Get ready to impress everyone at the table when you lift the lid to this beautiful centerpiece!
RAS EL HANOUT*
You might need to take a field trip to a specialty market for some of these ingredients, and this recipe will provide you with enough of the spice blend for three tagines (read: worth it). I believe (without having been to Morocco) that there are as many versions of this ubiquitous blend as there are people, but this is the one I like to mix up. It’s light on the clove/allspice, but so complex your guests will be talking about what exactly you used the whole time they are eating this delicious dish.
- 1 TBSP each of: peppercorn, aniseed, nigella seed, cinnamon, red chili powder, lavender flowers, dried roses
- 2 TBSP each of powdered ginger, turmeric, coriander, dried mint
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp cardamom seeds
Put all ingredients except for the flowers into a spice grinder, blender or mortar and pestle and blend into a powder. Add the lavender and roses and store in a small dry jar in a dark place until ready to use.