Freekeh Tabbouleh: Or, Shout Your Rejection


When Angela was in third grade, she started going with her classmates to Stanford football games. Although she didn’t understand football, she loved the veggie burgers and tailgate parties, and she quickly became a Stanford fan. When she learned that Stanford was considered by many to be the best university in the world, she decided – at age eight – that she wanted to be a Cardinal someday. She wore Stanford sweatshirts and Stanford sweatpants and we sent her to programs at Stanford over the summer. My friend whose daughter went to Stanford met Angela, recognized her intensity and tenacity, and declared that Angela would go to Stanford someday.

On December 11, 2015, Angela’s world came to an end. She learned that she had been rejected by Stanford despite her 2380 SAT, 5s on all 5 AP exams, stellar GPA, and long list of extracurriculars and community service hours. She was heartbroken, and in the days and nights after she was rejected, she couldn’t stop crying. “Why would they do that to me?” she asked. “What did I do wrong?”

Come March, the next two college decisions she received were both waitlists. Zero for three. We were all in full panic mode. Most of her friends have already committed to their early decision colleges, and she was the only one in her friend group left hanging.

But the world did not end. That was the lesson. Life must go on and you persevere: there were classes to attend, assignments to complete, friendships to be enjoyed, and laughter to be shared. 

On the last day of March, Angela was accepted to Harvard; maybe she can’t be a Cardinal, but she will wear Crimson. To me, it doesn’t matter where she goes to school. I thought about the possibility of her being rejected by all the elite colleges. She’d still be my precious Angela with her intelligence, her perseverance, her achievements, regardless of whether they will shine through the capricious haze of the college admissions process.

We feel extremely grateful for how things have turned out for Angela. We realize that there will be many more new challenges and new setbacks in her life. We hope that she will always bravely carry on no matter what happens. Ultimately, life obliges us only one thing: to carry on.


Anyway, you’re probably tired of my humble-bragging about Angela so here’s some food. This is a really simple, but very delicious and satisfying vegan recipe. Well, it can be vegan, but I cheated today. I cooked the freekeh with chicken broth. No one in the household is religiously vegetarian. Angela cannot stand the taste and smell of meat or seafood.  Audrey became vegetarian after she saw the film Food Inc.. Peter loves all meats and seafood, but is cutting back because I make him. I used to be a shameless pork lover, but find myself eating less and less meat as I age.

I have shared a Mediterranean Freekeh Salad and a Freekeh Pilaf with Beets in previous blogs and talked about what a great grain it is in terms of both nutrition and taste. An ancient grain from a distant land, it was food fit for the Pharaohs. If you haven’t yet tried it, you are in for a treat. 


Tabbouleh with Freekeh and Walnuts


1 1/2 heaping cup cooked fresh (I cooked mine in the rice cooker)

1 1/2 heaping cup chopped parsley

1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

1 cup seeded diced cucumber

1/4 cup thinly sliced radishes

20 black olives, chopped

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup toasted walnuts



Cook freekeh according to package direction. It is about 1 cup freekeh to 2 cups liquid.

Prepare the vegetables while the freekeh cooks.

Mix the cooked and cooled freekeh with the vegetables, olives, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Mix in the walnuts right before serving.


Lotus Root Salad with Soy Sesame ginger Dressing


After pigging out for the past two days, I decided to eat light today.  Light, but very satisfying.  Our chef Duyen gave me a bag of fresh water chestnuts and a few packs of fresh baby corn so I could prepare the lotus root salad exactly the way she made it for me at lunch the other day — lotus root with snap sweet peas, baby corn and water chestnuts.  These four crunchy, refreshing and slightly sweet vegetables make a perfect combination.  If you have never tried these vegetables before, this dish will be a great way to introduce something new and exciting into your diet.

Lotus Root Salad with Soy Sesame Ginger Dressing


2 cups thinly sliced and lightly blanched lotus root

1 cup baby corn, light blanched and diagonally sliced

1 cup lightly blanched, peeled and sliced water chestnuts

1 1/2 cup light blanched sweet snap peas

Green onion, chill flakes and sesame seeds for garnish

Ingredients for Dressing:

1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (optional)

1 1/2 tablespoon lime juice or rice vinegar

1 to 2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon finely minced or grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon chopped green onion

1 tablespoon 100 % pure black sesame oil


Prepare the dressing by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl.  Set aside.

Boil a pot of water and when the water is boiling add washed water chestnuts.  When the water boils again.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Set aside to cool.  Peel the water chestnuts when they are no longer hot.

Boil another pot of water and when it is boiling, add baby corn.  When the is boils again, use a slotted ladle to take them out.  Rinse with cold water and set aside.  Add the sweet snap peas into the same boiling water.  When the water boils again, drain and rinse the peas with cold water.  Set aside.  Slice the baby corn when it’s no longer hot.

Boil the last pot of water and when it’s boil, add thinly sliced lotus root.  Drain when the water boils again.  Rinse with cold water and set aside.

Let the vegetables cool completely before serving.

Alternatively, if you want to prepare the salad ahead of time, you can mix the salad dressing without the sesame oil and set aside.  Mix the sesame oil with blanched and drained vegetables and leave it in a closed container in the fridge for up to 2 days.  Add the rest of the dressing before serving.P1090198

Avocado-Yogurt Dip

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Angela is cramming for finals this week — there have been a number of papers due and a final exam coming.  The poor girl is sick and pulling all nighters.  I don’t see her much other than the time when she needs food — either meals or snacks.  I prepare a variety of healthy snacks that I believe are good for physical energy and mental clarity and wait patiently for her to emerge from her room.

This creamy and nutrient-packed avocado yogurt dip is deliciously satisfying.  If you need to stress eat, this tasty dip with a platter of vegetables and some baked yam fries is your best bet.  It will quench your need for eating without adding any guilt.  If you need to stay up past the wee hours and find your head becoming heavy, add a little punch to it — Tabasco sauce, chipotles or Sriracha, just to name a few. 

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Avocado-Yogurt Dip


1 ripe avocado

1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I used non-fat Fage)

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoon chopped scallion

1/3 cup packed cilantro

1/4 teaspoon salt

Smoked paprika to sprinkle (I sprinkled quite liberally)

Spicy sauce (optional)

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Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Simple as that!  Sprinkle smoked paprika.  Season with spicy sauce of choice if desired.

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Baked Yam Fries


1 yam (cut into 1/4 inch slices and then 1/4 strips)

Olive oil spray to coat the yam strip

Salt to taste

A few dashes of paprika or cinnamon

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Preheat oven at 450F.  In a baking pan, coat yam strips with olive oil and sprinkle on salt and paprika.  Do not over crowd the pan.  Each strip should be separate from the other.  Bake for 20 minutes.

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10-minute Tofu Salad & 10-minute of Motherly Bragging


Today was Audrey’s karate tournament in Foster City.  We left the house at 6 am for her to help set up the arena. I was ambitious in wanting to support her and stayed until 9 when I called Peter to tell him that I am coming home because of boredom. He said the traffic would be awful because of Bay to Breaker road closures and I should avoid highway 101 and use 280 instead. Well, I got turned around on the freeway and the GPS took me to 101. It was bumper to bumper after I exited and I didn’t get home until 11:10. After an hour of rest, we drove back to see Audrey compete. She won the sparring competition, and the championship point was scored with a spinning hook kick, which was described as “awesome” by the 2 judges. She also won 1st place in form and 2nd place for open kata.  When we finally arrived home at about 4:30pm, she was exhausted but giddy with happiness. 


Angela didn’t get back until 1:30 am this morning.  I took it to be a good sign that she had enjoyed her first prom.  She was quite anxiety ridden when she left the house, saying she was not this enough or that enough, or she was too this or too that.  In reality, she was beautiful.


Needless to say that going back to doing homework after all the excitement was worse than no fun for either of them.

For food, I made the 10 minute tofu salad.  It is my go-to food when I am too busy or tired or both, for it is truly simple and easy, AND DELICIOUS.


Tofu Salad


1 box of organic silken firm tofu, diced

1 tablespoon minced green onion

1 tablespoon minced cilantro

1 radish, finely sliced

1 teaspoon roast sesame seeds

A dash of red pepper flakes

2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon 100% pure sesame oil

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Open the box of tofu and slice it into desired shape

Sprinkle the green onion, cilantro, radish, red pepper flakes and sesame seed on the tofu.  Pour the soy sauce and sesame oil on top. 

Roast seaweed strips are also good with this dish, but I don’t have it in the pantry today. If you don’t like radish, you can use a little cucumber instead.  I prefer the radish because it not only gives the salad a bit crunch, it also gives it a little kick.



Happy Happy “Mother Days!”

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Audrey’s idea of a Mother’s Day treat for me was to feed me full fat dairy products, refined flour and lots of nuts — all that good stuff that the hungry empress has been trying to avoid.  When she was 4 or 5, she couldn’t say “Mother’s Day.”  She would say “Happy Mother Days” no matter what you’d tell her.  I thought perhaps it was the concept of Mother’s Day that stumped her.  She must have believed everyday should be Mother’s Day, or at least there were more than only one.  Today, I’m sure glad that there is just one Mother’s Day in a year.  Or I’d have a blocked artery very soon.

Angela and Audrey walked together to Safeway yesterday evening.  When I offered to drive them, they said no.  Now I know that they had gone to buy the Mother’s Day treats for me. 

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Knowing I usually get up early, Audrey made the effort to rise before I did.  I was prohibited from entering the kitchen this morning while she prepared my surprise breakfast.  Nothing in the world was sweeter than the bowl of Brown Cow Cream Top yogurt with the heart shaped strawberries that Audrey prepared for me. 

Later on, while I was cooking lunch, I got a text from Audrey with a picture of herself holding a message for me to meet her and Angela in the garden at 2pm.  


Audrey made the afternoon tea sandwiches with the forbidden ingredients of full fat cream cheese and white buttermilk bread. And there was a bowl of nuts on the table — something I had vowed not to see for a while without much success.  Tomorrow, the gyms around the country will be full of mothers.


Audrey used 8 oz. cream cheese with 4 oz. smoked salmon, dill weeds and 1 cucumber to make the sandwiches. They were delicious, but they really don’t belong on this blog.


We stayed in the house instead of going to the garden because it was a little cold outside.  We ate and watched old footages of the girls’ younger years and laughed about how in some ways people never change.  The dynamics between them remain the same.

Audrey Mommy

Of course we took selfies

Roast Fennel with Parmesan and Lemon


24 oz fennel bulb (2 large), stalks and fronds removed

Extra virgin olive oil spray

kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

1 tbsp olive oil

1 lemon, juice of

1 oz Parmigiano Reggiano shavings

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Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees. 

Leaving the core intact (which helps keep your slices intact), stand the bulb and cut the fennel in half vertically from top to bottom. Cut each half into (4) 1/4-inch thick slices to give you a total of 8 slices.

Spray each side with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Spray a baking pan with olive oil and line the fennel slices in pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until tender and soft.

Set aside on a platter, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, top with the parmesan shavings and garnish with fennel fronds. Serve warm.


Gluten Free Buttermilk Quick Bread with Cheese, Onion and Herbs


1/2 cup almond flour

1/2 cup + 3 tablespoon oat bran

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

A pinch of salt

A pinch of sugar

1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon onion Powder

1/4 teaspoon dill weed

1 teaspoon fresh fennel fronds (optional)

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

1 large egg

1/2 red onion, sliced and sautéd in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft

8 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for sautéing the onion

2 artichoke hearts, sliced (optional)



Pre-heat oven at 350 degree.  Grease a bread pan.

Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Sauté sliced red onion with olive oil until soft and let it cool for 5 minutes.

Mix the onion, milk, olives and egg with the dry ingredients.

Pour the mixture into the bread pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into he center comes out clean.

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Roast Fennel recipe adapted from skinnytaste.  If you like fennel, try my fennel salad!  And if you like the savory gluten free bread, try my zucchini bread!

Butter Lettuce, Edamame, Shiitake Salad with Citrusy Ponzu Dressing


Peter has been working long hours without a weekend off in the past week and decided to take a day off today and drive to Yountville with me.  We used to take weekend trips in the area, but after the children were born the weekends were for piano, or soccer or karate.

In Yountville, we had a wonderful lunch in the patio of an Italian restaurant called Bottega.  The sun was shining and the flowers were blooming and air was fragrant.  For the first time in months, Peter was relaxed, and eating voraciously food that hadn’t been “healthy-fied” by his wife.  The dessert was Zeppole a la crema, a traditional Italian doughnuts sprinkled with real powdered sugar and filled with real cream.  The doctor did not follow his own preaching, but It was lovely to see him so free and content.  We agreed that we should do this more often — steal away on a weekday when the kids are in school. 


Bottega Restaurant

The awning at the restaurant gives everything an orange glow

Joan Bottega

It would have been a perfect day if we stuck to our plan of eating a lunch, taking a walk and doing some shopping before heading home.  But we got too excited, too greedy.  After touring the nearby towns we returned to Yountville for dinner, in a restaurant called Redd, which was highly recommend by a local shop owner and our waiter at Bottega.  We couldn’t be more underwhelmed by the food.  It was so salty that no amount of water could quench our thirst on the drive back.  Well, I guess too much of a good thing doesn’t necessarily equal a better thing.

Before we left the house for Yountville, I made this butter lettuce salad with edamame and shiitake for Angela.  Her AP Physics test was at 12 noon and she didn’t have to go to school before that.  It made me happy that Angela loved it so much that she asked for seconds. It made me happier still when she told me tonight that the test went well.  I felt as if I had helped somehow by feeding her the right food — something healthy, delicious and satiating without inducing food stupor. 


Butter Lettuce Edamame Shiitake Salad with Ponzu Dressing

Ingredients for the Salad:

1 head of butter lettuce

1 cup cooked shelled edamame

8 oz. shiitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 green onion, chopped


Ingredients for the dressing:

1/4 cup ponzu sauce

1 tablespoon 100% pure sesame oil

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

1/2 to 1 teaspoon grated or finely minced ginger

2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)



Mix all ingredients for the dressing together in a bowl.

Wash and spin dry the lettuce.  Tear the leaves into bite size with your hands. 

Wash mushrooms and slice into 1/3 inch thick pieces.  Heat the cooking oil on medium high and sauté the mushrooms until they just begin to “sweat” and set aside to cool.  Make sure you do not over cook them as they will become watery.

When the mushrooms are cooled, mix with lettuce, edamame and green onion in a salad bowl.

Pour dressing into the salad and toss before serving. 


Red Cabbage Slaw with an Asian Twist



I read an article on today’s New York Times about a 78-year-old Iowa man, who has been arrested and is now on trial for having sex with his demented wife in the nursing home.  Apparently, he visited his wife almost daily, sometimes twice a day, praying rosary by her bedside and taking her to church on Sundays, and occasionally he made love to her.  According to social workers in the nursing home, the wife was always happy to see her husband and they would hold hands and talk.  Sweet old man is all I can say. 

I asked Peter if he would visit me twice a day when I am institutionalized for dementia.  He just said, “All I want to know is what vitamins he was on?”  Well, whatever vitamins he was on have brought him big trouble now.  The problem was that she was so demented that she was not deemed fit to give consent to sex.  And without consent, sex is rape.  The demented wife who was not deemed fit to consent to sex had to go through an examination with a “rape kit.”  It that even legal?  Anyway, Peter just reminded me to add in my “Advanced Healthcare Directive” that he has my consent to do you know what.

Peter, who usually doesn’t like coleslaw, loved this red cabbage slaw with an Asian twist.  He seems to believe that it contains aphrodisiac properties, and is also a cure for headaches.  So, yeah…

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Ingredients for the Salad:

1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced

1/4 mint leaves, chopped or cilantro, chopped

2 tbsp minced green onion or chives

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1/2 cup chopped candied walnuts or candied cashews (I used cashews)


Ingredients for the Dressing:

1 tbsp minced ginger

1 tsp minced garlic

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 tsp lime zest

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp 100% pure sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce

2 tsp brown sugar + 2 tsp xylitol (you can use 4 tsp brown sugar if you prefer)



Thinly slice the cabbage and put in salad bowl.  Mix all ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.  Pour the dress over cabbage and mix well.  Let sit for an hour in the fridge. 

Before serving, add everything else to the salad bowl and give it a few good toss.


Superfood Triple Berry Chia Pudding


Today Angela made Skinnytaste’s Superfood Triple Berry Chia Pudding for Peter and herself.  We have made this often in different versions before…real easy, real delicious, and super healthy to boot! What’s not to like?  This reminds me that I could actually make chia pudding in the hotel room for breakfast or a refreshing after work snack. All I need is a bottle.

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  • 1 cup milk of choice (She used unsweetened cashew milk)
  • 3/4 cup fresh berries (blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries work well)
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • sweetener to taste (She used three packs of Safeway stevia which is just erythritol and rebiana, but I’m sure xylitol would work too)

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Mix it all up in a jar. Cover and shake vigorously, chill for 15 minutes, shake again and refrigerate overnight.

This makes a great breakfast, snack, or dessert! It’s beautifully minimalist, just like this post (I’m in Vegas shooting a short with Audrey but longer posts will be coming soon!)


Adapted from:

Zesty Lime Shrimp and Avocado Salad & Shrimp Spring Roll with Crunchy Peanut Sauce


Audrey and I are all packed and ready to go.  We leave tomorrow for Las Vegas to act together in a little film called Adeline.  I will keep you posted of our adventure in sin city.  So Angela will be the main blogger when I am away.

Peter LOVES shrimp, but we very seldom buy it because no one else in the family is interested in eating shrimp.  Today I saw some really fresh jumbo shrimp at Costco and decided to make it for Peter.  He had them for both lunch and dinner and was a very, very happy man.  Even I, the reluctant seafood eater, enjoyed them.


Zesty Lime Shrimp and Avocado Salad


1 lb jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined and poached (you can also buy cooked prawns)

10 cherry tomatoes,

1 hass avocado, diced

1 jalapeno, seeds removed, diced fine

1/4 cup chopped red onion

2 limes, juice of

1 tsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped cilantro

salt and fresh pepper to taste



In a small bowl combine red onion, lime juice, olive oil, pinch of salt and pepper. Let them marinate at least 5 minutes to mellow the flavor of the onion.

In a large bowl combine chopped shrimp, avocado, tomato, jalapeño. Combine all the ingredients together, add cilantro and gently toss. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.


Adapted from:

Shrimp Spring Rolls with Crunchy Peanut Butter Sauce


10 oz. cooked jumbo shrimp (sliced lengthwise into two halves)

1 package rice paper

1 head of butter lettuce, cleaned and separated

1 handful cilantro

1/2 a cucumber, cut into match sticks

1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise

1 carrot,  julienned

Ingredients for the sauce:

1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Fresh juice from 1/2 lime or lemon

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To make the chunky peanut sauce, just mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

Arrange all the filling ingredients and prepare a cup of warm water. Lay a piece of spring roll skin on a smooth flat surface such as a clean cut board.  Pour a small amount of warm water on the spring roll skin and spread the water with your calm or fingers.  Layer 3 slices of shrimp, a lettuce leaf, cilantro, sliced prawn, jalepeno, cucumber, avocado, carrots and about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the sauce. Fold the top over the filling, then the sides and roll tight to close. Repeat with remaining rolls. These taste the best freshly made, but will keep in the fridge under a damp paper towel for 2 days.

You can also use a large bowl of warm water and dip the spring roll skin in the water before laying it on a flat surface for wrapping.


These rolls are perfect for a quick lunch on the go. Peter never takes lunch hour and always eats on the run.

Venetian Cauliflower


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. 

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Venetian Cauliflower


1 cauliflower

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: