This has been a busy week filled with birthdays, guests, illness, and car trouble. We’ve managed to eat well though by relying upon a battery of easy meals made from pantry staples.
Here’s one of my favorites: Cauliflower with Almonds, Olives, and Caramelized Onions served over Cous Cous, which I’ve adapted from a recipe by Deb at Smitten Kitchen. I’ll give my version of the recipe later on, but for the moment, I’d like to ponder the nature of adaptation.
I use recipes in a variety of ways. There are some –not very many though — that I follow to the letter. These are mostly for baked goods, where precision matters. Other recipes — that is to say most of them — I use as guides more than anything else. Still others function as inspiration for radically different uses of technique or ingredients.
I suppose all cooks work this way. My question is: when does a recipe become my own? When can I claim a recipe as my own original intellectual property? I guess it’s the same question that my students have in mind when they ask me if they should cite something like the date that Columbus sailed the “ocean blue.” (It’s the same issue at work in the Charlie Kaufman film Adaptation, except without the unexpected crocodile.)
So, what is an original recipe? Are there any — well, are there any that aren’t products of molecular gastronomy? Is there anything new under the sun or deep in the ocean blue?
The cauliflower recipe — which Deb adapted from a recipe by Michael Anthony of the Gramercy Tavern, and is, therefore, an adaptation of an adaptation — is the easiest thing in the world to make and awfully tasty at the end of a long weekday, when you feel like you’ve been drowning in the ocean. And even though my own version is quite a bit different from Deb’s, I’m not prepared to call this one original property.
Cauliflower with Almonds, Olives, and Caramelized Onions (adapted from a recipe by Deb at Smitten Kitchen)
2 large onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
3 tbs. olive oil
1 large head of cauliflower, or two small heads, cut or broken into large segments
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tbs. Sultanas (golden raisins)
1 tbs. cider vinegar
1 tbs. water
2 tbs. pitted, sliced Kalamata olives
2 tbs. toasted almonds, chopped
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 cups prepared cous cous
1 Tbs. Argan oil* (optional)
1/4 tsp. Baharat **(optional)
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F). To caramelize the onions: in a large frying pan, heat 1 tbs. of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onions and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown. Meanwhile, toss the cauliflower in the remaining olive oil and cumin. Scatter cauliflower onto a large rimmed cookie sheet, making sure that the cauliflower remains in one layer. Roast for 25 minutes or until the cauliflower turns golden brown.
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, raisins, and water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat and cook for 2 minutes.
Cook cous cous according to the package directions.
When the cauliflower is brown and caramelized, transfer to a large, deep serving dish. Add half of the caramelized onions, toasted almonds, raisins with liquid, and olives. Toss carefully until all is combined. Scatter the remaining carmelized onions on top, along with the cilantro.
Pour the argan oil and baharat over the cous cous and gently combine with a fork. Serve cauliflower on or beside a mound of cous cous. Serves 2 adults and one three year old with a passion for olives.
* Argan oil is the oil of the argan tree, which grows only in Morocco. Said to have miraculous healing properties, the oil is delicious on cous cous and in Greek yogurt. It tastes a bit like almond or hazelnut oil, both of which make adequate substitutes. I get organic argan oil from Zamouri Spices.
**Baharat is a very hot spice blend that is the traditional spice for cous cous. Use with caution. It’s available at http://www.thespicehouse.com.