The last time I was in Israel I arrived in Tel Aviv at dawn. I left Athens for Israel at one in the morning, and it took many hours of travel before I finally reached Tiberias, my first stop on the journey. Tiberias is a beautiful little city that occupies a short stretch of the coast along the Sea of Galilee. There are small and winding stone alleys, a lively beach scene, elegant boutique hotels and crumbling, ancient minarets left over from the Ottomans. Ignore the young teenagers carrying machine guns; it’s a charming town. Tiberias is particularly special to me because it is where I met my husband. I can easily conjure the colorful, swirling, exhilarating memories of the night that we met, so you can imagine how excited I was to return with him three years later.
However, our reunion with this cherished city was not the picture of romance that I envisioned. We were tired, confused, starving. We had been up for hours. We were hangry (a unique physical/emotional state brought on by low blood sugar; hunger+angry=hangry). People that know me know about hangry. Hanger must be attended to. We ended up at a small place called Little Tiberias. We ate quite a few dishes that day, but I only remember the fried cauliflower. Is it terrible to say that my memories of the fried cauliflower run alongside my memories of meeting Jon?
I don’t know if I have ever loved a vegetable the way that I loved that cauliflower. It could have been because I was starving but I’m pretty sure its because it was out of this world. It was tender and crispy all at the same time, warm and smothered with garlic and olive oil and lemon and coriander leaves. My mouth is watering as I write this. My passion for this cauliflower was so intense that the chef came out and shared the recipe with me, which basically consisted of “loads and loads of garlic” and “tons of lemon and olive oil” and “good white cauliflower dropped in a lot of hot oil.”
Cauliflower is an underused vegetable, pushed aside all together or covered in fake, melted cheese. Yuck. I have always enjoyed its earthy flavor and prefer it roasted in the oven with lemon or nutmeg or paprika, but ever since that day I really love my pretend Little Tiberias version. I don’t technically fry the cauliflower (although I’d like to try one day) and I swapped the coriander leaves for arugula, but it still tastes delicious and reminds me of Israel and love and beach and sunshine. I also added a little bit of paprika – no idea why. The cauliflower gets nice and browned and lemony and garlicky – the wilted arugula a perfect complement. Please try this immediately and tell me all about it or share one of your favorite ways to prepare cauliflower!
lemony garlicky cauliflower and wilted arugula (and love)
- one head of cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
- four or five cloves of garlic, chopped
- one large or two small lemons (meyers are best)
- one generous handful of arugula
- one teaspoon of paprika
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- heat a very generous amount of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the cauliflower, cooking for a few minutes untouched until they begin to brown
- add the paprika, salt and pepper and give the florets a turn or a shake to encourage nice browing on their opposite sides
- once cauliflower is browning nicely, squeeze half of a lemon over the florets, add a splash of water, reduce heat to medium and cover, cooking for about 8 more minutes or until cauliflower is tender (be sure and check temperture level and add a little water as necessary to keep from burning)
- in the meantime, whisk the rest of the lemon with some extra virgin olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper to create a simple vinaigrette
- in the last few minutes of cooking, add the chopped garlic to the cauliflower and stir, watching carefully so that the garlic doesn’t burn
- when cauliflower is finished, toss it with the arugula and the vinaigrette
I like to serve this will something simple like chicken or salmon or steak.
You could substitute the arugula for cilantro, a cousin to the coriander leaves that they use at Little Tiberias. I don’t use cilantro because I hate it, which goes to show just how good the version in Israel was!