Challenge #1: Food aversion turned craving

In my quest to become a better home chef and provider of healthy eats for my husband there are several foods, previously held in low esteem, that I am bent on making into something that we not only enjoy but perhaps even crave. These are your “you’ll eat it ‘cus it’s good for you” foods, your “plug your nose and chew” foods, your “smother it in cheese sauce to mask the flavor” foods. This is your kale, your brussels sprouts, your broccoli. Now, in no way am I saying that there is anything wrong with smothering a food in cheese sauce. There is something very special about that liquid gold known as queso dip or a molten pot of welsh rarebit served with plenty of crusty bread. What I am saying is that there is something even more special about fresh wholesome ingredients prepared simply and in such a way as to make the true inherent flavors shine.Mary's Blog pic

As I hone my skills as a cook and allow my palate to expand, I’ve learned that a big part of the reason why we have these aversions to some truly delicious foods (often certain vegetables) is a lack of understanding on how to properly prepare them. In my husband’s case, veggies like broccoli and asparagus were prepared only by boiling and were understood to be “done” when they were limp, mushy, yellowish, under-seasoned, and most certainly void of flavor and thus called for your cheese sauces, your mayonaise (don’t even talk to me about that one) or avoidance all together. In this recipe for kale and roasted cauliflower salad with tahini dressing, it was my goal to take two things neither my husband nor I were very fond of (cauliflower and kale) and turn them into something delicious. My previous understanding of kale was that it is tough when raw and still tough even after being cooked. And cauliflower was thought to be a bland vegetable used for display purposes only on veggie trays. There are many ways to prepare cruciferous vegetables like kale, brussels sprouts and cauliflower, such as sautéing, steaming, roasting or eating raw. Each most certainly has its place. Don’t be afraid to experiment in cooking them different ways to see how the textures and flavors change. I used both raw and roasted veggies for this dish.

Cutting the cauliflower into small florets and roasting them in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes really does turn them into something magical. The sugars begin to caramelize and the edges become golden brown and toasty while the centers become tender and creamy. As for the kale, I left that raw. Perhaps my tastes are changing, but I nibbled on the raw kale and realized that a) the leaves aren’t bitter at all as I remembered but actually quite sweet b) they aren’t so much tough as they are “hearty” and have nice crunch, and c) because of their heartiness, they can stand up to thicker creamier dressings. Even after adding the dressing, this salad lasted for days in our fridge without becoming mushy. This makes it a good make-ahead dish for parties or potlucks. However, I doubt that you’ll be able to keep your fork out of the bowl long enough to let it last more than a day. We just happened to be eating it for lunches, so I did my best not to snack on it every few moments. It was that good!Mary's foodblog pic2

Kale and Roasted Cauliflower Salad With Tahini Dressing (courtesy of Real Simple)

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (Pine nuts would be nice as well, but these are very expensive. Pumpkin seeds add a good crunch and toasty flavor.)
1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into florets
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
10 cups stemmed and chopped kale (about 1 bunch)
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the pumpkin seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing once, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to a plate. Increase heat to 450° F. On the rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower with the cayenne, 2 tablespoons of the oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Roast, tossing once, until golden and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, ⅓ cup water, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper (adding more water if necessary, to achieve the consistency of heavy cream). Add the kale, onion, raisins, pumpkin seeds, and cauliflower and toss to combine.