It’s the quality of the light at this time of year, more than just the quantity. There’s something about it. Do you know what I mean? It seeps into my pores, follows me around, tints my day in a very particular way that I can’t quite describe.
When there’s snow on the ground the sun is so amplified during its brief daily visit that you don’t necessarily notice. But, when the ground is brown, littered with twigs and oak leaves, you can feel that the light is almost timid. It sneaks up above the horizon, peaking about with a muted – sometimes pallid – glow. You can tell as soon as it comes up that it’s already contemplating its journey back down, leaving us in darkness again.
I feel as though I barely get my day going and then I’m looking up and it is rapidly becoming dark outside. And, try as I might, even though it may only be 3:30 or 4:00, I can’t really concentrate on getting any more work done.
If I’m working from home, when it gets dark it means it is immediately time to initiate that day’s Cozy Winter Evening, something I feel is essential if one wishes to keep from being overcome by dreariness. For me this involves turning on a couple of our lights that cast a very warm yellow glow, lighting candles is good too, turning on some cheesy music (this is key), and taking a moment to briefly contemplate the tiny Christmas tree that we decorated and now have perched on the dining room table.
Then, as five o’clock rolls in I pour myself a small glass of red wine, eat a small piece of cheese, and poke around in the refrigerator for something that will require a solid amount of oven time so that I can hear the comforting occasional whoosh of the pilot light, moderating the heat, for the next couple of hours as my small glass of wine and I make our way around the apartment doing some chores. The puppy trails along as well now. It’s a rag-tag little parade.
Then dinner roles around and the serious coziness commences, lights, warmth, food, and company inside shielding us from the dark and cold outside. I love to linger at the supper table in both summer and winter, but they are different kinds of lingering, it seems to me.
Cauliflower reminds me of these elements of winter. Is that a stretch? Perhaps, but let’s go with it. Pale colored, wan even, and with a flavor so subtle and delicate it often barely makes its presence known. However, when you roast it, it brings out all of its best elements (roasting does that dependably to vegetables) and gives you burnished, crisped edges, dark, nutty, and sweet, and as cozy as a well conceived Cozy Winter Evening.
A conversation with a colleague a couple of weeks ago tipped me off to tossing the cauliflower with some garam masala in the middle of roasting it. Holy spice blend that’s tasty! Quintessential winter baking spices cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg take a wonderful savory turn, aided by a bit of cumin, the heat of pepper, and some other friends. Their roasty toasty flavors embellish the wallflowery cauliflower. They take it by the elbow and guide it gently forward. Suddenly the cauliflower flavor is bolder, Cauliflower with a capital C comes through clearly, even as the spice flavors dance around it.
It’s a wonderful side dish just like that. Boom. Done. Nothing more needed. However, let’s just say you’re looking to bulk it up and make it into lunch.
Well then, a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts adds crunch and plays off the natural nutty flavor of the cauliflower. A squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of parsley adds freshness and lightness, making it a little more midday, less eventide (though it would make a great evening dish too, of course).
I found myself wishing I had dried currants to sprinkle in with it for their punchy sweetness. So, I’m going to go ahead and recommend you add currants. A dollop of yogurt to add further heft would be welcome as well (I seem to find myself wanting to top many things with yogurt these days. Perhaps it makes me think of snow bedecked trees. Perhaps I just like yogurt.).
After this lunch, just a couple hours until sunset. Then it will be time to think about what coziness I’ll roast next.
Garam Masala Roasted Cauliflower (serves about 4)
- 1 medium head of cauliflower
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- garam masala spice blend (you can make your own, if you choose)
- about 1/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
- 2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley
- a squeeze of lemon juice
- 1/4 cup dried currants
- Preheat your oven to 425F. Cut your head of cauliflower into small florets. On a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle your cauliflower generously with olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Toss well to coat.
- Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Then, take the cauliflower out and sprinkle it generously with garam masala, and stir. Return to the oven and roast 5-10 more minutes, until tender and all browned on the edges.
- Remove from the oven, toss with the currants and a squeeze of lemon juice. Sprinkle the hazelnuts and parsley over the top and serve.