I had an amazing meal just before I left the States, at a new Santa Monica restaurant called Fork in the Road. It was one of those times when you walk in expecting nothing and you're completely blown away. The most memorable dish was this fantastic roasted cauliflower, liberally doused with za'atar and dukkah, a crunchy, earthy Middle Eastern blend of hazelnuts, cumin, coriander and sesame seeds.
The best part was the topping - mounds of creamy, fluffy, tangy stuff that I mistook for yogurt. Upon extensive research in the land of the interwebs, I discovered that this wonder is called labneh. It's essentially a strained yogurt with a consistency halfway between mascarpone and whipped cream.
Fast forward to Week 2 at a culinary school in the middle of rural Ireland, and what are we making? Labneh. No joke. In between piles of Irish soda bread and the umpteenth rhubarb tart, somehow we are making some obscure Middle Eastern yogurt cheese. Apparently they're ahead of the curve over here, with labneh readily available at most basic supermarkets, whereas at home, it's some exotic new thing. For me, at least.
Anyway, the best thing about labneh is that it is EASY to make yourself. Line a strainer with cheesecloth or paper towel, fill it with full-fat Greek yogurt, and let it drip into a bowl for 4-5 hours. That's it. And if that's too much for you, just use plain old Greek yogurt. The dish will still taste amazing.
Back to that. Spiced up cauliflower, with crunch from hazelnuts, creaminess from labneh, and freshness from mint. A real stunner for your next dinner party.
Spice-Roasted Cauliflower with Hazelnuts and Labneh
Yield: Serves 6 as a side
Prep Time: 30 min Cook Time: 30 min Total Time: 1 hour plus overnight for labneh
8 oz / 225 g plain yogurt (ideally full fat)
Start labneh at least 4 hours or the night before. Line a strainer with cheesecloth or paper towel and set over a bowl. Pour in yogurt and put in the fridge for at least 4 hours. The liquid will drain out of the yogurt, creating a thick, smooth consistency like mascarpone. Labneh will keep for as long as the yogurt it was made from, so you can do this well in advance.
1 head cauliflower, broken into large florets for roasting (create some flat edges for browning)
Olive oil (about 2 Tbs, divided)
Salt and pepper
2 tsp za'atar, or a mixture of thyme, ground cumin and a touch of cayenne
4 oz / 115 g hazelnuts
3 Tbs sesame seeds
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
Handful of fresh mint, chopped
Preheat oven to 400F / 200C. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. In a bowl, toss cauliflower with a few glugs of olive oil, salt, pepper and za'tar. Lay out in a single layer, taking care to keep flat sides of florets down so they can brown. Roast for about 30 minutes. Check your oven and turn florets over for the best browning. The smaller pieces should be nicely crisped and the larger ones just barely cooked through. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, made the dukkah. Or, you can make the dukkah well in advance and keep in a sealed jar. Pour hazelnuts onto the small baking sheet and toast for 5-8 minutes, making sure you don't burn them. Tip them into a clean dish towel and give them a good rub to remove the skins. Finely chop the hazelnuts and move into a bowl.
Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Add sesame seeds and toast til lightly browned, 4-5 minutes. Add to hazelnuts. At this point I also toast my coriander and cumin seeds and grind them by hand, or you can just add the pre-ground spices to the hazelnut mixture. (The freshly toasted spices taste much better - it's worth the effort.) Give the whole mixture a good stir. Store the extra dukkah in a glass jar in a cool dark place. It tastes amazing with fresh bread and olive oil.
Arrange the cauliflower on a platter. Shake over a few tablespoons of dukkah. You won't use all of it - use your judgement. You want a good coating for crunch, but too much and the whole thing tastes a bit dusty. Drizzle over some olive oil, then top with dollops of labneh and freshly chopped mint.