Prior to relocating to London, I had never so much as entertained the idea that the turning seasons could impact me in any way outside the kitchen. I guess it is just one of those things that I never thought about because I never really had to. Quite simply put, seasonal extremities are not something I have ever been exposed to. [I hate to be seen championing Australia again in such rapid succession, but winter in Sydney is not a far cry from summer in London…you do the math].
I moved to London in the early weeks of May a few years back. Summer followed shortly after and I spent a wonderful three months whiling away the hours in the long grass of Hyde Park, sipping rosé on the patio of my newfound favourite watering hole and exploring the sun-drenched streets of my new city.
Alas, it was gone as quickly as it came. Autumn blew by and the dark depths of winter soon had its icy grip over London. Pitch black silence replaced the sound of birds in the morning. The colourful flowers in Hyde Park disappeared and its green grass, now muddy and sodden, was inviting no more. Very soon, the only light guiding me home after a days’ work hailed from a streetlamp.
…And then the rain. Oh, that rain. At best, it would breeze through in a torrential downpour, making way for a cold-but-at-the-very-least-dry evening. At worst, it would set in as an irritatingly persistent heavy-set mist. Either way, it made damn sure that every pair of leather shoes I owned were completely ruined.
Physical inconveniences aside, the greatest impact of a London winter, for me in any case, was (and continues to be) an emotional one. I missed the sun, I missed the feeling of warmth, I missed the outdoor lifestyle…and by default, I missed home.
Gone was the desire to venture beyond my immediate four walls. To brave the cold, wet weather for any extended period of time was to voluntarily face discomfort. This lead to a growing tendency to remain indoors…to snuggle into the corner of the couch swathed in blankets, or otherwise bask in the warmth of an open fireplace at a familiar pub. I was increasingly drawn to comfort-style foods: hearty slow-roasts, rich stews and homely pastas…but how quick it is to find you cannot spend half the year finding your fill this way. Your thighs (mine, anyway) simply will not allow it.
Therefore, the one gift of winter was the want it gave me to spend time in my kitchen. To piece together dishes that gave me those strong, wintry flavours I was so craving…but without the associated heaviness. So while strong winds billowed outside, I happily spent hours skipping between the oven and stove, enjoying their cosy warmth.
I am sharing with you one of my most loved dishes that came about during this time. It really gave me that warming, spice-heavy boost I wanted on a cold day – however, it did so in a healthy-but-satisfying kind of way…because sometimes that is all you need.
NB: I don’t miss the meat at all in this one! But if you insist that you will, it also makes for a cracking side dish.
Spiced Cauliflower Steaks with Tzatziki
Serves 2 as a light meal or 4 as a side dish
For the Cauliflower Steaks
1 medium head of cauliflower
1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Tzatziki
150g natural yoghurt
1/2 Lebanese cucumber, grated
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 bunch of mint, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Toasted pine nuts
Picked coriander leaves
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Trim and wash the cauliflower before carving it lengthways into approximately 1/2 inch thick slices. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Season the cauliflower steaks with salt and pepper and sear each side until browned (about 2-3 minutes per side). Carefully transfer to an oven tray lined with baking paper.
Meanwhile, combine the fresh ginger and ground spices with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Brush all over the browned cauliflower steaks and season with a little extra salt if necessary. Roast in the oven until tender and cooked through (10-15 minutes).
To make the tzatziki, combine the yoghurt, grated cucumber, crushed garlic and mint in a bowl. Add lemon juice and season to taste.
Top the cauliflower steaks with the tzatziki and scatter over a loose handful of pine nuts, raisins and picked coriander before serving.