My Private Chef An Edible Bouquet

For my birthday, I got two presents: a red sofa and cauliflower.

Miri Hanoch, Eyal Shani
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Miri Hanoch, Eyal Shani

For my 40th birthday the chef brought me a bouquet of cauliflower - fried and steamed by various delicious methods. It's quite obvious: The man knows all there is to know about me. And when he says "I know what you're feeling within yourself," he means that the aroma of fried cauliflower reminds me of heavy black pots filled with all kinds of little patties, mashed potatoes speckled with sauteed onion, and vegetable soup. These are the memorable delicacies my grandmother used to cook, which projected an image most dear to my heart: of a smoothly functioning household with the scent of fresh laundry and aroma of food prepared between late morning and early afternoon hours, when a grandmother - or parent, in our case - would be standing there frying white cauliflower florets to crispy and delectable perfection.

These hours in the kitchen are a precious time in one's childhood, because even though it's morning and the kids are at school, there is someone at home thinking about them. And anticipating the lovely moment when they get off the school bus and scatter like a pile of oranges, each one to his home with his heavy schoolbag on his back, rush up the stairs, run to the bathroom after holding it in all day, toss the schoolbag in the hall and, at last, inhale the sweet smell of home mingled with the tantalizing aroma of fried cauliflower. Eventually, I remind myself, they'll all grow up and go off to realize their own visions of fried cauliflower in their own homes. Until then, the frying must go on!

I'm almost always home when the girls get back. I guess you could say I have this idee fixe about a mother who is home, so at the relevant hours they can find me there like another piece of the furniture. Speaking of which, in the room that purports to be a living room, we never - until now - had a sofa. On my 40th birthday, my mother decided that enough was enough. I'd always thought: Who really needs a sofa? What's wrong with a mattress that you can do exercise and yoga on, and sprawl on to watch television? Turns out that plenty is wrong, we just didn't realize it before.

Ever since the arrival of the red couch, our lives have changed. Now we have something to sit on and so we also have a new kind of time - sofa time - when we sit and talk and dream and doze off.

Another one of the couch's positive side effects is that we no longer need to make tiring trips to the playground, because what could be more fun than jumping from the couch to the floor? And the big girls are no longer embarrassed to invite friends over. After all, we have a real sofa now. Of course the sense of order and propriety precipitated by the two-seater was momentarily rattled this week when a few pieces of the ceiling peeled off and fell right next to it, restoring the feeling of transience that more often characterizes our house.

Though I work from home, from the girls' perspective, if the food isn't on the table on time, it's a sign that I've been criminally negligent. Despite the thousands of lunches that have appeared on the table on time, slack off for one day and they look at me like I've just remembered that I have children, with a look that says that anything that happens from now on is going to be too little, too late. That I might as not even try.

On Friday night, we celebrated my birthday with plenty of wine and Saturday was pretty much what an insurance company would call a "total loss." And on Sunday it was like we'd emerged from a time tunnel, and to our surprise found that everything was still waiting for us, including the dirty laundry and a lingering headache.

The chef brought home a crate of cauliflower, but what was a blessed experiment in nostalgia at noon was by eight taking on a less pleasant character as the chef insisted on trying just one more technique, and then just one more. The house was deceived into thinking that it was Hannukah, what with all the hours of deep frying. And the littlest one stood in the middle of the living room and said: "Enough, I don't want to cook anymore." As if we had asked her to prepare a nice dinner for the whole family.

At midnight, I managed to throw everyone into their beds, aside from the little one who has lately adopted our bed as her own. But this forces the chef to sleep in her bed, so for the past five days he's been unwillingly betraying me with the Little Mermaid, who's stretched out on the flannel sheet on the little one's bed, forever young.

Thanks to the manipulations of modern agriculture, cauliflower can be found year-round, but it's still at its best during the cold winter days when its florets stay tightly packed. It should be bright white in color, free of discoloration and brown spots, with a crispiness that's not the least bit rubbery.

The bouquet made up of florets should be small and bunched like a fist, hidden among the green leaves and stalks that cover it. The main stalk under the bouquet should be bright green and a little translucent, and the piece at the bottom that once separated it from the ground ought to be white and fresh-looking.

Cauliflower belongs to the family of foods that are adept at trapping the free-radicals in our body, the cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli is its closest relative, then cabbage. Like all the rest of the family, it is not so easily digestible.

One cauliflower is sufficient to feed two to four people, especially if it is dipped in sauce. It should be placed whole, with the protective leaves still attached, in a pot that accommodates it comfortably. Fill the pot with water about three-quarters of the way up. Salt well (about 10 grams of salt per liter of water), bring to a boil and continue cooking at a moderate boil with the lid closed for about 40 minutes. At this point, the cauliflower is completely cooked, indeed "well done," and this is the point where all of its flavors can be best enjoyed.

Cooking cauliflower fills the house with a slightly sour scent that is the perfect complement for a rainy day, though some people aren't so fond of it. A slice of white bread without the crust, that's been dipped in a little wine vinegar and added to the pot when the cauliflower is boiling, will prevent this smell.

The following recipe serves four.

1 whole fresh, white cauliflower with tightly packed florets covered with bright green leaves

1 cup mineral water

sea salt

50 gr. cold butter, cubed

juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

A tajine pot is the perfect vessel in which to steam cauliflower, because of its cone-shaped top. It slows down the escape of the liquids from the pot and the vapors that collect underneath spread out all over instead of dripping right on top of the cauliflower. But if you don't have a tajine, a regular pot will do.

Pour water 1.5 cm high in the bottom of the pot, then put in the cauliflower, sprinkle salt on top and cover with the lid. Bring to a boil and simmer at a moderate boil for 40 minutes. Remove the lid, place the cubes of butter atop the cauliflower, close the lid for 2 minutes, then remove the lid and turn up the flame. Now the butter mingles with the water that has been flavored by the cauliflower, forming a whitish emulsion.

Add the lemon juice, gently shake the pot and wait until it comes to a strong boil with large bubbles. Turn off the fire. Bring to the table in the tajine, spoon the lemony-buttery liquid over the cauliflower, break off florets and serve.

The following recipe serves four.

1 whole medium-size, fresh, white cauliflower, florets tightly packed and covered in bright green leaves

3 tbsp. olive oil

mineral water

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Place the cauliflower in a steel pot and fill 3/4 of the way up with mineral water. Salt with about 10 grams of salt per liter of water. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, lower to a moderate boil and cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the cauliflower. Drain.

Brush the cauliflower with olive oil and sprinkle on a little salt. Place in a baking dish place in the center of the oven, and bake until the top turns golden brown. Bring to the table in the baking dish. The outside of the cauliflower is crisp and the inside is as soft as butter. Separate the florets with a spoon and serve.

The following recipe serves four.

1 small, fresh, white cauliflower, florets tightly packed and covered with bright green leaves

The batter:

1 cup milk

1 egg

100 gr. white flour

a little salt

Separate the cauliflower into florets and cook for about 15 minutes in an uncovered pot filled with salted, boiling water. Drain and wait until the steam dissipates.

In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg, add the milk, salt and then the flour, and beat until the batter is thin and smooth. Add the cauliflower florets, which will sit in the batter until ready to be fried.

The frying:

In a large, deep skillet, bring some oil (half corn, half olive) to frying temperature (about 180 degrees Celsius).

Remove the florets from the batter and let the excess drip off into the bowl. Fry on both sides until golden brown. Remove from the oil and place on paper towels.

Quick tomato sauce:

2 tbsp. olive oil

3 garlic cloves, sliced into rings

1 small hot green pepper, sliced into rings

4 medium red tomatoes, cubed

6 fresh basil leaves

Put the oil in a skillet and add the rings of hot pepper. Turn on the flame and saute until the color of the pepper is enhanced. Add the garlic rings and as soon as they begin to brown, add the tomatoes. Salt lightly, bring to a boil and continue cooking while stirring over a medium flame for about 7 minutes. Add the basil leaves, stir for about another minute and remove from the fire.

Dip the fried florets in the tomato sauce and serve.

Take four or so cauliflower florets that have been cooked for about 15 minutes in salted boiling water. Heat a skillet and add a little butter. When the butter melts, brown the cauliflower florets in it and then add a beaten egg. Flip over when the bottom is browned and then immediately place a slice of yellow cheese or mozzarella on top. Fold the round omelet in half while it's still in the skillet. Wait about another minute and then it's ready to serve. Something about this omelet recalls the hedonistic pleasure of an omelet made with white truffles.

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