whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan

whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan

This summer, I got to spend some time in NY/Philly/NJ catching up with my friends from grad school and even a couple fellow bloggers. It was so much fun seeing everyone again, and (of course!) there was a lot of good food. My friend Anita cooked the most beautiful dinner, including a whole roasted cauliflower appetizer with a wonderful herby tahini dipping sauce. When we got home, I was inspired to put my own spin on it, so I made a vegan sabzi khordan plate, with whole roasted cauliflower in the center instead of the hunk of cheese I usually serve. Sabzi khordan is essentially a big plate of herbs and veggies, so the big wreath of fresh herbs worked wonderfully with an Anita-inspired lemony tahini sauce on the side. The spices I chose for this whole roasted cauliflower were inspired by Persian Mama Blog’s advieh berenj, a seasoning for rice. It adds a lovely warmth and depth to just about anything.

whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan
whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan
whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan
whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan
whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan
whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan

whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan

serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer, 4 to 6 as a side
active time: 15 minutes
total time: 2 hours
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  • 1 medium/small head cauliflower (700g)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1/8 teaspoon rosewater (optional)

  • Salt to taste

  • 1/4 cup tahini (60g)

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (45g)

  • 3 tablespoons water (45g), optional

  • 1/4 teaspoon crumbled rose petals (optional)

  • 1 bunch basil

  • 1 bunch cilantro

  • 1 small bunch chives

  • 1 small bunch mint

  • Bread for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

  2. Cut the stem so the cauliflower sits level, and (optionally) discard the leaves. Combine the olive oil, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, rosewater (do not add extra—it should be very subtle), and salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon) and brush all over the cauliflower, getting under the leaves. Place in a cast iron skillet or another baking dish with room around it, and place in the oven. Bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes for al dente, or longer for more tender cauliflower (up to 2 hours). Decrease the temperature to 350°F and tent with foil if it starts to brown too much for your liking, and check on it often after the first hour.

  3. While it’s in the oven, make the tahini dipping sauce. Combine the tahini, lemon juice, water, and salt to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon), and whisk together until it thickens. Set aside.

  4. Remove the cauliflower to a plate. Top the cauliflower with the rose petals. Arrange the basil, cilantro, chives, and mint around it. Serve with the dipping sauce on the side, and encourage guests to grab a big handful of their favoirte herbs with every bite of cauliflower/bread/tahini.

To make ahead: The cauliflower can be roasted ahead of time, stored in the refrigerator, and then reheated in the oven before serving (it will soften more as it reheats, so cook it for about 15 minutes less than you’d like earlier on, and let it finish cooking through as it reheats). The tahini sauce can be mixed up ahead of time, and then stored in the refrigerator for a couple days. The herbs can be washed, dried, wrapped up in slightly damp kitchen towels, and stored in a resealable container for several days.

whole roasted cauliflower with sabzi khordan

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strawberry rose cake

strawberry rose cake

A couple years ago, I really wanted to make a simple strawberry rose cake. But things that seem simple rarely are. Whenever I tried using fresh strawberries in the batter, the cake would turn out purple (or on a good day, pasty pink), and if it tasted like anything at all, it was completely soggy and water-logged. Whenever I tried using powdered strawberries, the cake would turn out bright pink, but it would taste super bland. And yes, I tried reducing strawberry purée, I tried adding some jam, I tried roasting the strawberries, I tried adding both freeze-dried and puréed, I tried adding a few drops of pink food coloring, I tried a leavening-free angel food cake to make sure the berries’ red pigment didn’t react with the baking powder… yes, I tried it all.

So after two years of testing every recipe I could find, adapt, or write, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that there’s nothing better than Southern-style strawberry cake made with jello and box mix. It’s just the pinkest and strawberriest, and you won’t catch me trying to make a strawberry cake another way ever again.

strawberry rose cake
strawberry rose cake

You might be picking up on the fact that I’m usually a fan of from-scratch baking, but I finally learned to appreciate the appeal of box-mix while putting together a roundup of Valentine’s Day desserts a few months ago. I included my friend Abeer’s fabulous rose cardamom tres leches, which starts (but certainly doesn’t end) with box mix. The little bit of rosewater she adds to the milk soak turns ho-hum cake mix into something completely new. Her recipe inspired me to try box mix with my strawberry rosewater idea, and I’m so glad I did. It took a little experimenting to get this recipe just right, but I found that adding an extra egg white works perfectly with an added box of jello.

Further inspiration for this recipe comes from Patty Pinner’s fabulous strawberry cake (Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories), as well as Zoë François, whose passionfruit pavlova clearly inspired this cake’s decoration (I’ve got instructions in the recipe, but you can of course decorate it however your heart desires). Anyway, just a few more desserty things for you to check out. On to the recipe, which is certainly as delicious as it is easy.

strawberry rose cake
strawberry rose cake

strawberry rose cake

active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour
yield: 8 servings
download a PDF to print

the cake layers

  • 1 15.25-oz box white cake mix (430g) *

  • 1 3-oz package strawberry jello (85g)

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (70g)

  • 4 large egg whites (140g)

  • 1 cup water (230g)

  • 2-3 teaspoons rosewater (10-15g) **

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

  2. Mix together the cake mix, strawberry jello, vegetable oil, egg whites, water, and rosewater.

  3. Line 2 8-inch cake pans with parchment rounds, and spray them with cooking spray. Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

  4. Remove the cakes to a cooling rack, and let them cool completely before frosting (careful—they’re delicate).

* If your box mix has a very different ingredients list than this recipe, feel free to follow those instead. Just add 1 extra egg white to compensate for the added strawberry jello packet. I used Duncan Hines white cake mix to test this recipe (not sponsored, just mentioning it for consistency), but any brand will do.

** I use 3 teaspoons (AKA 1 tablespoon), but you should use 2 if yours is particularly strong (or even 1 if it’s extremely strong). If you err on the side of less rosewater, and then regret it later, you can always add a few drops to the frosting, or toss the strawberries in a few drops of rosewater to make up for it (you can always add, but you can’t take away).

cream cheese frosting & strawberry slices

  • 2 8-ounce bricks of cream cheese, softened to room temperature

  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, softened to room temperature

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 cups (230g) powdered sugar *

  • 140 g / 1 c 1/4-inch sliced strawberries (do not mix into the frosting)

  • optional: edible rose petals for decorating

  1. Mix together the cream cheese, butter, salt, and powdered sugar over low speed with a stand mixer and whisk attachment. Once the powdered sugar is all mixed in, increase speed to medium-high, and continue mixing until it lightens in color and consistency (this should take about 2 minutes). Use at room temperature.

  2. Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand (or use a rotating turntable and a cardboard cake round). Carefully level it if it has a hump (it probably won’t, because box mix is magical). Cover with a thin 1/8-inch layer of frosting. Top with strawberries. Spoon several small blobs of frosting over the strawberries, and smooth them out into another 1/8-inch layer of frosting. Place another cake layer on top. Dump all the frosting on top of the cake, and use an offset spatula to smooth the frosting down the sides. Decorate it however you’d like.**

* Jello cake tends to be very sweet, so this cream cheese frosting is not very sweet to compensate. If you like super sweet cream cheese frosting, feel free to add more powdered sugar, to taste.

** Feel free to decorate the cake however you’d like, or recreate this look, inspired by Zoë François’ pavlova. Use a rotating turntable and offset spatula to evenly frost the cake. Smooth out the top with your offset spatula while rotating the turntable. Once the top is smoothed out, use your offset spatula to make sweeps up the side, rotating as you go and allowing the sweeps to overlap a little. To make the sweeps, point the flat side of the offset spatula so it’s facing the side of the cake, and place the spatula so it’s oriented horizontally. In one swift motion, sweep up while placing a small amount of pressure on the cake (don’t put too much pressure, or you will scrape off the frosting, which is not what you want to do). Allow the end of the sweep to sort of fall toward the center of the cake (kind of trail off toward the center as your spatula leaves the cake, but don’t scrape the top).

Storage: This cake keeps surprisingly well in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. If you’re making it ahead for guests, you might want to make all the components and frost it at the last minute. Cake stales faster in the fridge than at room temperature, so if you’re making it more than 24 hours ahead, you can freeze the individual cake layers (wrapped carefully).

strawberry rose cake

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