Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Purple Cauliflower Tacos

I purchased the most gorgeous purple cauliflower at the University of Maryland farmers' market the other day. It was ridiculously purple, and I had to have it. But when I got it home, I tucked it into the bottom of the fridge and forgot about it for a few days.

Then came the weekend and I had to rustle up something for dinner. Purple cauliflower to the rescue! I'm perfectly content to eat my cauli simply steamed and salted, maybe with a nice knob of butter on top. Honestly, I could eat a whole head myself--and have--and be completely content. But that wouldn't work for Mr Minx. He likes to have a more balanced meal, one with starch and protein. But I didn't feel like fussing with protein. I wanted to do something creative with the beautiful purple cauliflower.

So I made tacos. With cauliflower fritters, harissa mayonnaise, pickled carrots, and esquites. You may think that one (or more) of those things doesn't belong, but oh, they do! These tacos were full of intense flavors and textures - the herbal and crispy fritters, the pop and sweetness of fresh corn kernels, the salty funk of feta cheese, and the spicy tang of the yogurt. They were soooo good!

The fritters themselves were a bit of a gamble. I had never made them before, so wasn't sure about the texture at all. Would they fall apart in the pan? Would they get crispy enough? Should I make balls or patties? No, yes, and both. The cauli mixture (I can't really call it a batter) was very sticky. There was a lot of veg and very little binder, so it was easiest to make quenelle-style blobs that were roughly the same size and place them into the pan. Once I deemed the bottoms were browned enough, I flipped the balls onto their opposite sides as best I could, then smashed them flat with the spatula. Like a smashburger. It worked perfectly--they didn't fall apart, and it was easier to get them browned on all sides, as after smashing there were only two of them. I flipped them once or twice to make sure both sides were amply browned before draining them on paper towel-lined plates, and cooked them in two batches so as not to crowd the pan.

Since I had made the fritters with feta and mint, I thought I should just stick with Middle Eastern/Mediterranean-inspired flavors. I had a jar of fairly mild harissa in the cupboard that I thought would make a nice sauce with some Greek yogurt, and figured pickled carrots could add a bit of tang. (I totally cheated with the carrots. We were gifted with a jar of pickled yellow beets a while back, and after we ate the beets themselves, we saved the brine. It was perfect for a quick pickle with no effort on our part. I recommend saving your favorite pickle brine in its original jar in the fridge for such occasions.)  But then I had two ears of sweet bi-color corn to use. I was originally going to put the corn in the fritters, but thought it might get lost and simply become a texture. Salsa came to mind, but then I decided to make esquites, the off-the-cob version of Mexican street corn. Completely Minx-ified, of course, with little or no authenticity. It's the taste that counts, right?

Pretty and delicious. What more do you need from dinner?

Purple Cauliflower Tacos

For the harissa yogurt:
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
2-3 tablespoons harissa, or to taste (depends on the brand you use)
Lemon juice
Pinch salt

For the esquites:
2 ears corn, cooked and still warm, kernels removed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped scallions

For the cauliflower fritters:
1 medium head cauliflower
1/2 cup chopped mint and cilantro (one or the other, preferably both)
1 scallion, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup AP flour
Vegetable oil for frying

To serve:
Pickled carrots
Feta cheese
Taco or fajita-sized flour tortillas

To make the harissa yogurt: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make esquites: Mix everything together in a bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature

To make the fritters: Remove the leaves and bottom of the stem from cauliflower and discard. Rinse the cauliflower well and place in a large pot with a couple inches of water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Cook the cauliflower until a knife inserted through the top goes through with only slight resistance. Drain the water and transfer the cauliflower to a bowl.

Flip the cauli over and remove the rest of the stem and any overly large "branches" that might still be a little hard. Bash the florets into small pieces with a potato masher - you don't actually want to mash the vegetable, just to break it into very small bits. Discard any other hard stem bits you may find during this process. Stir a large pinch of salt into the cauliflower and let it cool to room temperature.

Once cool, add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. You'll have a purple and green sticky mess in a bowl. Using two tablespoons or your hands, form the mess into 15 or so football-shaped blobs, placing them on a couple of plates or a clean cutting board.

Heat a tablespoon or so of the oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick skillet. Place as many of the purple blobs in the skillet as will fit comfortably without crowding. Cook until the bottoms are nicely browned, 3-4 minutes. Flip the blobs so the browned sides are facing upward, then gently smash each ball into a patty with your spatula. Continue frying until browned on the bottom side, then flip again to cook the exposed still-purple bits that didn't get browned the first time around. Once browned on both sides, remove to a paper towel-lined plate and hit with a pinch of salt. Repeat with remaining blobs.

To serve: Place a stack of tortillas on a microwave-safe plate. Cover with a damp paper towel and nuke for 45 seconds to 1 minute, until tortillas are warm and pliable.

Put a warm tortilla on a plate. Smear with some of the harissa yogurt. Top with one or two fritters, depending on the size of the tortilla. Add a spoonful of the esquites, some pickled carrots, a few bits of feta, and some cilantro. Eat and repeat.

Makes 8-12 tacos.

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