We’re going to switch things up this week for Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Dukkah. Normally you read a title like that and you think, Okay, this is about cauliflower, and then it’s about dukkah, whatever the hell that is. It would then follow that we’d spend a lot of time nattering on about cauliflower and give you a little dukkah sub-recipe (we’re not sophisticated enough to have a site that features sidebars… yet).
But this week the cauliflower is just a tease, a way of filling the seats inside the tent with warm keisters so we have an audience. An audience for dukkah, the exotic headliner who’s come all the way from Egypt, an aromatic mixture of toasted nuts and seeds gussied up with a few fragrant accents.
Although dukkah recipes vary widely, the ones most commonly seen in the West take off on a core of toasted coriander and sesame seeds, adding other ingredients as geography, budget and whim dictate. Immigrant Egyptians working in the Australian wine industry have so popularized dukkah in the land down under that Australian wineries often offer their own proprietary dukkah flavored with Aussie herbs and ingredients, along with pita bread and olive oil, in their tasting rooms. Traditional dukkah with mint and cumin abounds, but you’re just as likely to discover versions with coconut and chili, or pistachios commingling with hazelnuts. Like Hamlet, at any given point dukkah is being performed somewhere, and while you’re reading this somebody’s probably whipping up a batch with cocoa nibs.
I wrote about dukkah ten years ago after eating it at Chef Ana Sortun’s Cambridge restaurant Oleana. Back then it was virtually unknown. Today I’d say it has a solid following. . . on the margins, where adventurous eaters burrow ever deeper into distant regional cuisines in search of new culinary highs. I like to sprinkle it on yogurt, on steel-cut oats with eggs (omitted from our earlier post because we wanted to keep things simple), on ice cream, and over salads. In the summer I sometimes grill bluefish and shrimp with dukkah crusts.
If you cook to relieve stress then dukkah may be just the culinary Prozac you’ve been looking for. Dukkah derives from an Arabic word meaning “to pound” because traditional Egyptian preparations call for crushing the toasted ingredients into a gravelly mixture. Should you possess an outsize mortar and pestle and a grievance or two you need to hammer out, by all means have at it. The more equable among can forge ahead with a food processor.
While putting together this introduction I stumbled into a rabbit hole and after a brief trip back through time found… myself. The Wikipedia entry for dukkah contains a link to a “a recipe for dukka with pistachios, cashews and coconut” by an author I love. Check it out.
Same as it ever was… same it ever was… same as it ever was…
(Egyptian Seed, Nut and Spice Mix)
Makes about 8 cups
- 1 cup pistachio nuts
- 1 cup cashew nuts
- 1 cup blanched almonds (that’s what we could find – otherwise we’d use unblanched)
- 1 cup hazelnuts
- 1 cup unsweetened, untreated, shredded coconut
- 1 cup sesame seeds
- 1 cup coriander seeds
- 6 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Make 7 flat “boats” out of foil. They should be big enough to hold the nuts and spices in one layer, about 5 inches wide and long enough to fit across a sheet pan. We fit the 4 intended for the nuts on one sheet pan; the remaining 3 on another.
- Chop the pistachios, cashews, almonds and hazelnuts very coarsely, just enough that each whole nut is in 4 pieces. Put one variety of nuts into each of 4 boats and arrange on the first sheet pan. Toast 10-15 minutes, checking the nuts every 5 minutes or so. They’ll probably toast at different rates but pull them out as soon as the pistachios finish (they always seem to finish first). Let all the boats cool on a rack then dump the nuts in a bowl and toss well.
- While the nuts are toasting, spread the coconut, sesame seeds in two of the remaining boats on the second sheet pan. Mix the coriander and cumin seeds together and spread them in the final boat on the same pan. Slide the sheet pan into the oven and toast 5-10 minutes. The coconut will almost certainly finish first, in about 5 minutes, so watch carefully. Pull the pan out as soon as the coconut turns color. Cool on a rack.
- Put the toasted coriander and cumin seeds in a food processor and pulse to chop coarsely. Stir this into the bowl with the nuts.
- Now pulse the nut mix in the food processor in 4 batches. Process each batch just to make a coarse crushed mixture (see the photo). Take care not to blend too finely or the nuts will release their oils and turn everything into a paste.
- Combine all the batches, adding the sesame seeds and toasted coconut. Season with salt and pepper.
Dukkah will keep several weeks if stored in a tightly sealed container. We almost always have some within reach sitting in a glass milk bottle with a tight cap. I know it will last several months in the freezer. Beyond that, trust your instincts. We’ve never had any around long enough to find out.
Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Dukkah
Makes 4 side-dish servings
- 2 pounds cauliflower
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves coarsely chopped garlic
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup dukkah
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped mint
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Remove the center core of the cauliflower and discard. Cut the cauliflower into 2-inch flowerets. Rinse and drain.
- Combine the oil and garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat and cook 1 minute. Add the cauliflower and ¼ cup water, season with salt and pepper, cover with a lid and cook, tossing often, for 10 minutes or until tender. Remove the lid and increase the heat so the moisture in the pan evaporates and the cauliflower begins to sear. Stir frequently so nothing burns.
- Add the dukkah, toss well, and transfer to a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, toss again and serve warm or at room temperature.
There are few dishes that won’t benefit from the occasional sprinkle of dukkah. In our house it’s standard with poached eggs for breakfast, or over a beet salad with goat cheese. At TRADE we shake a little over ginger ice cream for dessert; at Rialto it gives a North African nudge to an avocado salad. A cup of dukkah in a glass jar makes a great dinner party gift.
We always have some dukkah nearby in a capped bottle for immediate use and store the rest in the freezer. You don’t need to make a full recipe if that’s too much for you. Make half, or a quarter. Also, feel free to mix up the nuts and seeds. I’ve seen it made with walnuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. From my perspective the only real necessity is coriander and sesame seeds, but that’s because I really like the combination.
If you clicked on Ken’s link above you encountered a condensed dukkah recipe. I suggest you follow the steps here (which call for toasting the nuts and seeds in the oven instead of doing them in a skillet). The former is a more reliable way of making sure things toast evenly and don’t burn. It’s also easier to scale up or down according to how much you want to make.