Momofuku Ssam Bar Roasted Cauliflower

Some of my resolutions for the year are discrete tasks (finally get ID and credit cards with my married name on them, find a new dentist, get new glasses that aren’t broken and tilted like my current ones) and others are longer-term hopes and plans. For example: I’m trying to take a photo every day. I want to do as much writing as possible without feeling overwhelmed by my commitments. I want to savor every hour with friends who won’t live nearby forever. And I want to start really cooking from my collection of cookbooks. 

I go to bookstores just to visit the cookbooks I’m coveting, leafing through to make sure they’re really worthy. I don’t acquire them lightly. But somehow I find myself with shelves bursting, with books stacked nearly to the ceiling in our living room. I love cookbooks’ glossy pages and their numbered lists, their heft and their stories. I flip through my piles of cookbooks on weekend afternoons—daydreaming, but usually not actually pinning down a recipe. Maybe that will change this year.

When I’m at work and know I’m not going to do anything ambitious in the kitchen, I often call home for dinner requests. In between nights of our neighborhood’s excellent—but slightly unhealthy—takeout, Matt usually says he feels like “vegetables” which usually means a pan of roasted root veg with lots of roasted garlic cloves, or “greens” which means a huge pile wilted spinach, chard, and kale, sometimes with a handful of pasta or spoonful of crème fraiche stirred in. It’s not food for company, but there’s nothing wrong with it besides repetition.

But this roast cauliflower from David Chang and Peter Meehan’s new cookbook is a little fresher, a little brighter and spicier. It has fragrant cilantro and mint and just enough heat. You could serve this with jasmine rice and a pork chop or a nice piece of arctic char—it’s a little intense to eat as a main course.

The original dish at the restaurant is a knockout, but I needed to adjust this recipe slightly to our taste and memory of the dish. Since I roasted the vegetables instead of frying, they just couldn’t stand up to quite that much fish sauce, and a little extra lime and mint really helps, too. I’m sure that frying the cilantro leaves is a fantastic touch, but on a weeknight I just couldn’t hack it, and tossed them into the dressing with the cilantro stems. Since I didn’t have puffed rice on hand, I used slightly crumbled Special K cereal. It worked perfectly (and I’ll admit, we ate the leftover spicy toasted cereal with our fingers straight from the pan, it was that good.) I found shichimi togarashi at a local Asian market, and it’s worth having around.

Ssam Bar Roasted Cauliflower with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
adapted from Momofuku by David Chang
serves three to four as a side dish

For the vinaigrette:
1/4 cup fish sauce (this is less than Chang originally calls for)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)
1/4 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lime (have an extra on hand in case you want more)
1 minced garlic clove
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced, seeds removed
2 tablespoons very thinly sliced cilantro stems
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chopped mint (this is more than Chang calls for)

Combine all ingredients fish sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, and lime, and stir until sugar dissolves. Stir in garlic, jalapeno, cilantro stems, leaves, and mint. Taste for flavoring—you may want to add the juice of another half a lime or a teaspoon of sugar according to your taste. Set aside.

For the cauliflower:
2 small heads cauliflower
3/4 cup bhel mix, Rice Crispies, or Special K cereal
1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice powder)

additional lime wedges and chopped mint for serving

Preheat oven to 400 F. Chop cauliflower into florets and place in a large mixing bowl. Add a splash of oil and toss to coat. Spread the cauliflower on two rimmed baking sheets—do not crowd. Roast 30 minutes, stirring once, then turn down to 350 and watch carefully. Cook until cauliflower is tender and brown in spots.

If you’re using Special K, crumble so it resembles Rice Krispies. Add cereal (or bhel mix) to a skillet along with a sprinkle of oil and the shichimi togarashi. Toss to distribute, toast over medium heat until it darkens only slightly. Remove pan from heat.

When cauliflower is cooked, place in a large serving bowl. Toss with about half the dressing. Taste to see if it needs more dressing. Serve with puffed rice on top, as well as additional lime and mint if desired.

In cauliflower, cookbooks, momofuku

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