Whole Cauli Tagine

Diet? January? Pah! I’m sorry but we need insulation during this snowy month and I’m all about blubbering up. Okay I’m actually going to join the gym as soon as I get paid. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks eating things like langos, an Italian feast and my own bodyweight in melted cheese at Forza Winter. Oh and after Forza Winter I ordered a pizza at 2am. And then finished it for breakfast. And then and then and then and theeeeen. So you see I need to cut down on the cheese intake and up it on the veg side of things, which is how this cauli tagine came about.

The cauli is one of my favourite vegetables, and the once poor, unloved brassica is now¬†apparently¬†back in favour. I’ve wanted to steam one whole for ages and it seemed perfect for the tagine; it would cook gently inside, picking up all the spiced aromas over and hour or so. It would also look pretty snazzy on zee table.

I streaked the top of the brain-like cauli with saffron steeped in water; a flavour I used to hate with a passion. I found it soapy and unpleasant. The most expensive spice in the world? Didn’t get it. Well, I did; it’s very laborious to harvest of course but still. I’ve come to like it through cooking Iranian food and although I still wouldn’t count it among my favourite flavours, it sure does look purdy and I find it fragrant when used with appropriate modesty.

The cauli was cooked in a rich, thick sauce of onions, garlic, tomatoes and a few dried apricots, with a dried lime for a sour note; dried limes are amazing, when plucked from the bag they smell like lime sherbet. Spices went in, whole and ground; the onions taking on a beautiful amber hue from the turmeric.

It took rather longer to cook than I’d imagined, which has been my experience with the tagine thus far. I predicted an hour – it was more like one and a half. We ate it with a minty cous cous and a yoghurty drizzle effort which was basically yog mixed with diced pickled lemon and some garlic, briefly simmered to take the fiery edge off.

A seriously satisfying dish and, all importantly, insulating. I felt sufficiently sleepy, particularly when curled up with a glass of red and some Attenborough on the laptop. In bed by half past nine. Result.

Whole Cauli Tagine (serves 4, I’d say)

1 whole cauliflower
2 tins chopped tomatoes
2 large onions, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods (I like cardamom, a lot)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 scant teaspoon ground turmeric
1 dried red chilli
Pinch saffron (optional and like, totally not necessary)
1 dried lime
Handful dried apricots (preferably Persian)

Start by heating up the tagine slowly. Add some oil, then sling in the onions. Let them cook slowly for about 10 minutes. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, then crush in a pestle and mortar with the dried chilli. Add to the tagine with the other spices and the garlic. Continue cooking for a further 10 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes and dried lime, plus the apricots. Let the sauce cook down for 20-30 minutes until it’s starting to look all thick and gooey and lush. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Remove all the leaves from the cauliflower then trim down the base so it’s all nice and neat. Place the cauli on top of the sauce. If you want to use the saffron, steep it in a little boiling water for 5 minutes then steak across the top of the cauli. Put the lid on and cook on a gentle heat for about 1 hour to 1.5 hours, depending on the size of your cauli. When it’s tender, it’s cooked.

Serve with herby cous cous (I used mint and parsley) and yoghurt with chopped preserved lemons and garlic which has been simmered to take the edge off, then crushed.

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26 thoughts on “Whole Cauli Tagine

    1. Hi John, do you mean that you want to use preserved lemon instead of the dried limes? Sorry just making sure…in that case I would be very careful as the flavour of preserved lemons is much stronger than the limes. I would try using the chopped rind of one, and see how you get on. You may want to add more.

  1. Wow, that looks so good, and healthy! (I think everything you post looks delicious, but rarely looks healthy too!)

    Do you think it could be made in eg a big casserole dish, for those of us tagine-deficient?

    Also – I’m guessing you have to buy dried limes from somewhere lovely like your local peckham deli, rather than from eg sainsbury’s/waitrose?? *hopeful face*

  2. I love cauliflower, it’s such an underrated ingredient, probably down to school cooks. It’s great we are loving these more honest ingredients again. While I’m all in favour of having kolrahbi and Indian pumpkin juice kissed with angels’ tears in the supermarkets, we shouldn’t forget these beauties.

  3. “the traditionally” ? I think one to many of the vodka shots went to me.. “tried cooking it traditionally” is of course what I meant to type..

  4. I really, really, really need a Tagine… I love this kind of cooking!
    I’ve tried Saffron… I heard that steeping it in alcohol helps it unleash it’s awesome flavour quicker than an exhibitionist unleashes her lovelies on a nudist beach.. So I bunged some in a shot glass of Vodka. But Alas, once cooked, It tasted of nothing! (except, of course, the various veggies I’d cooked)
    The saffron was about a year old though. Since then I tried cooking it the traditionally , but to no avail! Any Saffrony-tips to sooth my sorrows?

  5. Wow, wow, wow Helen! It’s more than 30C here and I still feel like eating this, it sounds so yummy. Will have to seek out dried lines… Cx

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