One of the many culinary traditions observed for Purim is to eat stuffed foods. It is a custom that was shared by Jewish communities east and west, and it symbolizes the many secrets and surprises revealed during the traditional custom of reading the Book of Esther.
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For Ashkenazi Jews, this usually means kreplach and stuffed cabbage leaves in sweet and sour sauce. Italian Jews make spinach-stuffed pasta, and Iraqis prepare sambusak, a fried pastry filled with cooked chickpeas.
Taking this idea to 2016, the year of the roasted-whole-cauliflower craze, I was reminded of a stuffed cauliflower dish I first made in the 90’s, based on a recipe by an Israeli chef, Pini Levi, who had a wonderful restaurant off Jaffa street in Jerusalem. Cauliflower florets are stuffed with seasoned minced meat, then deep fried to golden-brown (always the best tasting option, and the most caloric for sure). It was then served with a light tomato sauce. The recipe here is an impressive, lighter version (no frying) for the whole cauliflower, stuffed and roasted in the oven.
Stuffed and roasted cauliflower
1 large cauliflower
2 teaspoons turmeric
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup bread crumbs
For the filling:
6 oz. ground beef
1/2 a yellow onion, grated
2 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coriander
For the sauce (optional):
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tomatoes, cut into wedges
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Grease a small baking sheet with oil.
2. Bring 3 quarts (12 cups) of water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the whole cauliflower comfortably. Add 3 tablespoons salt and 2 teaspoons turmeric to the water.
3. Remove leaves from the bottom of the cauliflower. Use a small knife to then remove the small leaves around the stem. Gently insert cauliflower into boiling water, cover, and cook on medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes, until cauliflower barely starts to soften. You may want to reduce the heat if the water boils too aggressively. Using 2 slotted spoons, transfer cauliflower to a colander, cut side down, and let stand for 10 minutes to cool.
4. Using your hands, mix together all filling ingredients.
5. Put cauliflower on a work surface, cut side down. Very gently open the florets and stuff the meat filling between them, little by little. Continue for all sides of the cauliflower, then turn it upside down and stuff more into the bottom.
6. Transfer cauliflower to the baking sheet. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into your hands and gently coat the cauliflower all over, until the cauliflower is completely coated with oil. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon cold water, and use a brush to brush egg over the cauliflower. Sprinkle breadcrumbs all over the cauliflower, using your hands to help them stick.
7. Bake for 45 minutes, then increase temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) and bake for 10-15 minutes longer, until cauliflower is very tender and golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Slice gently to reveal the stuffing. Serve plain or with the tomato sauce.
8. To make the tomato sauce, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until very hot, but not yet smoking. Add tomato wedges, and let them char for about two minutes, without shaking or stirring. Stir tomatoes, and add garlic, paprika and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, until tomatoes are very tender. Press tomatoes with a wooden spoon to crush them and to release their juices. If the sauce is too thick, you can add a few tablespoons of water. Serve over the sliced cauliflower.