It’s been an unusual autumn in Istanbul. The weather has been very warm and mostly sunny. Perhaps this is why the streets suddenly appear to be full of people and life again. Make the most of this unexpected return of summer before winter sets in. Perhaps people are finally feeling ready to go out again after the unusually eventful summer. Or perhaps it’s something else altogether. Who knows. But the fact is, the streets appear more crowded and full of life now than at any point during the summer.
But even if the weather gods and streets suggest summer, the vegetables at the market is a reminder that it is in fact long gone. Autumn has long since arrived and the final winter fruits and vegetables are starting to appear. It’s been a while since we had fresh chopped salad with dinner every day. At the moment, roast vegetable salads are king. And that’s fine by me. It’s one of the best things I know.
Cauliflower is one of the best building blocks for a roast vegetable based salad. It’s got a way of soaking up flavours from its surrounding, like a fine piece of paper waiting to be painted in the brightest of colours. And it works with just about anything, as long as you follow a few simple rules: Something crispy. Something sour. Something sweet. Something wholesome. Perhaps even something exotic.
This version has an incredible depth of flavour. The base is simple enough: A classic combination of roast cauliflower florets with toasted hazelnuts and fresh herbs. The dressing is packed with flavour and adds a slightly sour but also slightly exotic (thanks to the allspice and chili flakes) touch. But what really takes this from an ordinary cauliflower salad to something much more than that is the labneh. Beetroot labneh. Slightly sweet. Slightly sour. Very creamy. And a little zingy, courtesy of the za’atar. And what colour!
Commercial labneh is readily available in Turkey and many other places, but it’s also easy to make your own: Just mix some yoghurt with a little salt and drain in a cloth or thick coffee filter until it has reached a cream cheese like consistency, anything from six to 24 hours or more. If you can’t find it and can’t be bothered to make your own, the thickest yoghurt you can find or even some cream cheese (or a combination of the two) will do. Also, if you can’t find za’atar, it may be omitted.
Serve this salad on its own for lunch or for dinner with a carb (rice, bulgur) or protein (chicken, meat) on the side. Serves 2-4, depending on what else is on offer.
Cauliflower salad with hazelnuts & beetrot labneh
- 200 g labneh or very thick yoghurt or cream cheese (or a combination)
- 1 medium beetroot (c. 100 g), roasted until soft, peeled and cut into large chunks (c. 75 g net weight)
- 1 tsp za’atar (optional)
- 1 large cauliflower, cut into medium size florets (c. 700-750 g net weight)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp Turkish pepper flakes (pul biber/Aleppo pepper) or cayenne pepper or regular chili flakes to taste
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 75 g hazelnuts
- 20 g roughly chopped flat leaf parsley (without thick stalks)
- 10 g roughly chopped mint leaves
- salt and pepper
- If your beetroot is raw, roast whole in the oven at 200 C until completely soft, 1-2 hours. Leave to cool to room temperature. Peel and chop roughly.
- Preheat the oven to 230 C.
- Make the beetroot labneh by pureeing the labneh (or thick yoghurt/cream cheese), chopped beetroot and za’atar (if using) with a stick blender or kitchen machine.
- Mix the cauliflower florets with the olive oil and a little seasoning. Roast until soft and brown at the edges, 25-30 minutes. Leave to cool to room temperature.
- Turn the temperature down to 180 C. Roast the hazelnuts until nicely toasted, 6-10 minutes. Leave to cool and roughly chop.
- Make the dressing by whisking together the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, pepper flakes and allspice. Season to taste.
- When ready to serve, mix the cauliflower, hazelnuts, herbs and dressing. Taste again for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
- Spread the beetroot labneh on a serving plate and top with the salad. Serve immediately.
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