Spiced Cauliflower Sandwiches
Cauliflower was once one of those vegetables I could not understand why anyone would eat it by choice. That wasn't really cauliflower's fault though, but how it was always presented to me, which was bland and usually overcooked. When going through a process of erasing the numerous food aversions I grew up with, I thought cauliflower for sure would need a ton of seasoning for me to be able to stomach it, which is why one of my earliest recipes for this veggie had it heavily spiced and grilled. I've since learned cauliflower is something to be loved, and really just ensuring it's roasted properly is all that's needed to make it delicious, but that spiced cauliflower did always sit fondly in my memory and I decided to resurrect it recently to make these spiced cauliflower sandwiches.
The first thing I tackled for this recipe was making the pickled red onions that would serve as a way to inject crunch, tang, and color into the final sandwiches. I'm a fan of adding a jalapeño or two in with my onions for a slight heat and thought that would be especially good in this context, and that ended up being true.
I more or less stuck with the seasoning I devised about eight years ago, only making some small adjustments here and there. The turmeric-based mixture isn't really rooted in any one cuisine, but it will likely have a flavor most reminiscent of Indian food with layers of earthy and spicy notes from things like mustard powder, ginger powder, cumin, and cayenne.
To apply this to the cauliflower, I first cut an entire head up into large florets to ensure the pieces were all big enough that the would not slip through the grates. I then placed those in a large bowl and added in olive oil along with the spice mixture and tossed until everything looked more-or-less evenly coated.
Then it was off to the grill, where the first thing I actually cooked was a skewer full of garlic gloves. I thought a garlic mayo would be a good condiment compliment to the flavors going on in this sandwich, and figured while I had the grill going, why not grill that garlic to lessen its sharpness and make it something that would meld more than stand out. I separated and skewered the cloves so they would cook fast, and indeed, the garlic was browned on the outside and soft on the inside after just about five minutes.
While I let the garlic cool off the grill, I placed the cauliflower on, situating the florets close to, but not directly over the coals of a two-zone fire. I've found this creates a pretty ideal scenario where the cauliflower both roasts completely and gains some charring at the same time. It did require checking on how everything was cooking now and then since some florets closest to the fire browned faster and had to be moved further away before they blackened, and vice versa for the florets furthest away from the fire at the start.
While the cauliflower cooked, I peeled all the garlic and mashed the cloves into a paste in my mortar and pestle. The garlic was so soft though that this could have been done with a fork in a bowl, making this doable in a single vessel since the only other step to complete the sauce was to mix in mayo.
Once the cauliflower was done, I transferred the florets to a cutting board and roughly chopped them all. Then I spread a layer of the yellow-hued veggie on slices of sourdough and topped that with pickled red onions and a slice of provolone cheese.
I then placed all the bread—the dressed and undressed slices—on the cool side of the grill that was now outputting a medium-ish heat. After being covered for about five minutes, the cheese had melted and the bread was nice and toasty, but not charred or overly dry at all. I then completed each sandwich with a handful of arugula and a spread of the garlic mayo.
One thing I didn't remember about that original spiced cauliflower was that it was pretty spicy. When I tasted the cauliflower on its own, it was delicious, but also had quite a kick of heat and I worried that would be too heavy handed in sandwich form. It was not though, as the mayo, bread, and cheese all helped temper the spiciness nicely—although I did cut down the peppers in the final recipe because I think more people would enjoy these sandwiches with less heat. Spiciness aside, the cauliflower was a powerhouse player with a strong earthy flavor and heft that made it worthy being the centerpiece that the onions, cheese, arugula, and mayo all supported in their own important, but more minor ways. Chowing down on one of these, it was hard even imagining a time when I wouldn't have touched it because I thought cauliflower was something to be avoided, but I'm certainly glad I found my own ways to break a lot of those food aversions so I was able to bring these sandwiches into existence and enjoy every bite.
Spiced Cauliflower Sandwiches
- Yield 4 servings
- Prep 20 Minutes
- Cook 30 Minutes
- Total 50 Minutes
- For the Pickled Red Onions
- 1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeño, stemmed and thinly sliced
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- For the Cauliflower
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into large florets
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- For the Roasted Garlic Mayo
- 6 medium cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- For the Sandwiches
- 8 slices sourdough bread
- 4 slices mild provolone cheese
- 2 handfuls fresh arugula
- To make the pickled red onions: Place onion and jalapeño slices in a large glass jar. In a medium saucepan set over high heat, whisk together vinegar, water, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid into jar with onion and jalapeño. Let cool to room temperature, cover, and transfer to refrigerator.
- To make the cauliflower: In a small bowl, mix together salt, turmeric, crushed red pepper, cumin, coriander, ginger, mustard powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Place cauliflower in a large bowl, add in olive oil and spice mixture. Toss until cauliflower is evenly coated in oil and seasoning. Set aside.
- To make the roasted garlic mayo: Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Thread garlic cloves onto a skewer and place on hot side of grill. Cook, flipping occasionally, until garlic browns and blackens in spots and is softened throughout, about 5 minutes. Remove garlic from grill and let sit until cool enough to handle. Peel garlic and place in a small bowl. Using a fork, work garlic into a smooth paste. Add in mayo and mix together with a fork. Set aside.
- Place cauliflower on cool side of grill close to, but not directly over, the fire. Cover and cook until tender all the way through, about 20 minutes, flipping and moving cauliflower around as needed for even cooking. Transfer cauliflower to a cutting board and roughly chop.
- To make the sandwiches: Spread a layer of cauliflower on 4 slices of bread. Top cauliflower with pickled red onions and a slice of provolone cheese. Place all slices of bread on cool side of grill, cover, and let cook until cheese has melted and bread is toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove bread from grill. Place a small handful of arugula on top of each piece of cheese and spread a layer of mayo on each plain piece of bread. Set top slice of bread in place and serve sandwiches immediately while still warm.
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Jeff How much water do you add to the pickled red onion brine?
Josh @Jeff It's 1 cup. Thanks for pointing out that omission in the recipe, it's now fixed.