In her book , Mary Oliver wrote about the peculiar life force that we call habit, and how it gives shape to our inner lives, “In the shapeliness of a life, habit plays its sovereign role… The hours are appointed and named… Life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers… And if you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.”
Daily cooking has become a habit, a form of self realization, or an addiction. Even on the days that I don’t have to cook, I will make something — a special after school snack, a healthy dessert or a fruit salad — just to mess around in the kitchen for a while. In the methodical preparation of food, life’s focus is simply on flavors, aromas and colors. All other concerns fall away and turn into a haze of steams. As I mix different spices, I conjure up faraway locales and the lives I could have lived in those places — some I have visited, and others I’ve only dreamed about.
My need for daydreaming and quiet solitude, which used to be fulfilled only by reading, is now satisfied in the kitchen as well. I can enjoy the pleasure of my alone time while being of service to my family. I can have my cake and eat it too.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, finely sliced
Pinch of saffron, crumbled
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
A dash paprika
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ heaping cup raisins
¼ cup almond slices
1/4 cup water or chicken broth
Note from Chef Chen: This may look like a long list of ingredients, but it is actually a very simple dish to make. I just put a generous amount of my favorite spices together with caramelized onion and raisons to cook the cauliflower.
Cut cauliflower in half from top to bottom, then remove the core. With a paring knife, cut into very small florets of equal size. Blanch florets in boiling water for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain.
Put olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add saffron, cinnamon, coriander seeds, cumin, turmeric, paprika and red pepper. Season well with salt and pepper.
Add lemon zest, raisins and cauliflower florets. Toss with wooden spoons to distribute. Add water or broth. Cover with a lid and cook for about 5 minutes more, until cauliflower is tender. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with almond slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Adapted from: cooking.nytimes.com