What’s in a recipe title? Whether or not it’s obvious (or indeed, warranted) I cogitate over the titles of my recipes with all the eleventh-hour fervency of Tom Wambsgans and Cousin Greg resolving the “We Hear For You” slogan in Succession, analysing my titles in terms of vibe, aesthetic, syntax, proximity, logical and lexical semantics, global political temperature, whether or not it’s stupider than something Tom and Greg would come up with, and uh, actual accuracy. In the case of today’s Pickled Fried Cauliflower and Marinated Tofu Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing the adjectives and nouns were weaving in and out and around like a high-spirited Jane Austen heroine at a Regency ball. I finally settled on the current iteration but need to include the caveat that nothing here is literally long-term preserved, there’s just pickle brine involved and so the cauliflower is experiencing being pickled in the same way that a TV character might use their surname as a verb and proclaim “you just got [surname]-ed” at another unsuspecting character. The tofu is definitely marinated, though! No vagaries there.
There are three distinct components to this salad: scorched, nutty cauliflower soused in lemon juice with sweet, smoky gochugaru and the rich, fancy taste of toasted fennel seeds; soft chunks of tofu humming with salt and vinegar; and a celadon-hued dressing tinted with the leaves furled around the cauliflower, all held together with flouncy rocket leaves. While it’s not exactly the work of mere moments, this salad in both looks and tastes amply reflects the effort.
With all that vinegar and lemon and marinating it might seem like this salad has set its pickling sights on the inside of your mouth as you eat it, however, it comes together in a bracing but balanced way: the opaque mellowness of the tofu and the tender cauliflower can ably handle that level of tang, and the tangle of leaves diffuses it further. I drew a little inspiration from Sicilian Cauliflower and the concept of brining tofu to make a kind of vegan feta; however in this case I’m happy for it to simply be marinated tofu — I’m bringing its delicious taste and texture to this salad on purpose as opposed to it being a substitution. That being said, if you wanted to crumble some feta into this I’m sure it would be a fine addition, but I’d use it alongside, not instead of, the tofu.
Somewhat infuriatingly for a person like me who doesn’t like to plan ahead, the tofu does taste better the longer you leave it in the marinade — on the other hand, if you’re organised you can keep the main components of this salad separately in the fridge and then breezily merge them together at your leisure; the tofu in one container, the cauliflower in another (it will get a little floppy as it sits in its vinegars and spices but I don’t see this as a problem) and the dressing in a third; the rocket should be added right as you’re about to serve. I’m not talking weeks of forethought here, the morning of the dinner you’re planning to eat this salad at would be perfect. With bread for swiping through the dressing and a dessert to happily anticipate, this would be a charmingly light but bolstering dinner for two; it will of course serve more people if you have other dishes on the table. And if you want to make it a salad tasting flight, or if you live in a country where rocket is called arugula and therefore have different ingredients in season, you might also consider my Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad; my Tomatoes and Fried Mint; or Nigella’s spectacular Pea, Mint, and Avocado Salad.
Pickled Fried Cauliflower and Marinated Tofu Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing
A fancy but robust meal of a salad, full of punchy flavour. Prepare the tofu at least a few hours in advance if you can, but it’s still fine if it’s just sitting around while you make the rest of the salad. Recipe by myself.
- 300g firm tofu, drained and patted dry with a paper towel
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme or oregano leaves
- 1 fat garlic clove, peeled and chopped roughly
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon table salt, or to taste
Cauliflower + Salad:
- 1/2 a large cauliflower
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon gochugaru, or chilli flakes of your choice
- 2 tablespoons pickle brine, from a jar of pickles
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- salt, to taste
- 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
- 100g rocket leaves
Creamy Herb Dressing:
- 20g tofu (roughly) from the block for marinating
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme or oregano leaves
- a few of the cauliflower leaves (optional, if they came attached)
- salt and pepper, to taste
1: First, get the tofu a-marinating by slicing the 300g block of tofu into cubes, reserving about 20g (about 4 cubes of tofu) for the dressing. In an airtight container that is big enough to fit the tofu in, stir together the 1/4 cup of white vinegar, the two tablespoons of lemon juice, the tablespoon each of olive oil and fresh herbs, the sliced garlic clove, and the half teaspoon (or more, to taste) of table salt. Tip in the cubes of tofu, place the lid on the container, give it a gentle shake, and set aside while you complete the rest of the salad. If you’re making this ahead of time, refrigerate the container until needed.
2: Next, the cauliflower — slice your half-cauliflower into small florets, and fry them in the two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, letting the florets sit undisturbed for a minute or two to let them brown before turning them. I like to put the lid on the container for a couple of minutes so that they steam as well as frying, but whatever works for you. Once the cauliflower is sufficiently browned and scorched in places, remove the pieces to a large mixing bowl. Turn the heat off the pan, and tip in the fennel seeds, letting them sit for about 30 seconds in the residual heat until fragrant, and then tip the seeds over the cauliflower in the bowl. Repeat with the three tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, clattering them into the still-hot pan and leaving them to toast until fragrant. If your stovetop doesn’t hold its heat forever like mine, you may need to turn up the heat again. Set the pumpkin seeds aside for garnishing later.
3: Add the teaspoon of gochugaru (or chilli flakes) to the bowl of cauliflower, along with the two tablespoons of pickle brine, the tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt to taste. You can cover this bowl and let the cauliflower sit for a couple hours if that’s more convenient than eating it right away.
4: Finally, make the creamy herb dressing and assemble the salad. Place the reserved 20g/few cubes of tofu into a blender along with the two tablespoons of olive oil, three tablespoons of water, the teaspoon each of lemon juice, garlic powder, and honey, the tablespoon of thyme or oregano leaves, the cauliflower leaves (if using) and plenty of salt and pepper. Blitz until you have a smooth, green-tinged puree.
5: Toss the 100g of rocket leaves through the cauliflower. Drain the marinated tofu and gently toss through the salad. Drizzle over a little of the herb dressing, and leave the rest on the table with a spoon for people to add their own. Scatter over the toasted pumpkin seeds, and serve.
Makes two hearty servings. This will serve 3-4 as a side, or more as part of a busy buffet table.
- You can use spinach or mixed leaves instead of the rocket, but the peppery nature of the rocket is preferable here. If you’re not using rocket you could consider adding a handful of watercress to your leaves.
- Use another garlic clove in the dressing if that’s easier — sometimes raw garlic can be a bit acrid, hence why I used garlic powder instead.
- If your lemon juice is coming from actual fruit instead of a bottle, you could definitely add the finely grated zest to this, perhaps with the cauliflower.
- If your cauliflower comes with its leaves already trimmed, you could add a handful of parsley or basil to the blender for the salad dressing instead, bearing in mind that the basil will add a much stronger (but delightful!) flavour.
As by Stevie Wonder, I could no sooner name my favourite Stevie Wonder song than I could identify which particular air particles I enjoy breathing the most. Nonetheless, this is my favourite Stevie Wonder song! The way that chorus shuffles up on you, the way the verses lap in and out like waves, the way it’s really hard to google if you forget what it’s called!
Ridin’ Low by L.A.D. I always assumed, when I’d hear this on the radio back in the day, that the chorus must have been sampled from some 1960s band, as the interpolation of Temptations guitars and Five Satins shoo-be-do-ing would suggest, but after extensive research, it seems that the composers, who I cannot find any credits for, just created one of the most beautiful choruses from scratch for this song and then disappeared into thin air? I need to know more!
Stop by Jane’s Addiction, the kind of guitar riffs that make you feel like you’re falling off a bicycle onto gravel; Perry Farrell’s stainless steel voice is a national treasure.
Brotherhood of Man, from the film adaptation of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Robert Morse’s loose-shouldered no-personal-space fidgety physicality! It has to be said!
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