Life Is Butter Melon, Cauliflower

The Paleo and Primal bandwagons are well jumped on by now. (I imagine them to be like the foot-powered vehicles in The Flintstones.) The backlash has even arrived in the form of archeological debunkers. Yet whatever the truth about how our ancestors ate, it seems reasonably obvious that cutting out modern, processed foods and eating mainly vegetables and protein is going to make your healthier.

Simplifiers of those diets like to make out that carbs are the enemy which isn't the case. Wholegrains, pulses, legumes etc. can all make up part of a balanced diet. But I do know from personal experience that going low-carb for a while is a good way to lose weight. In any case, it’s summer and sometimes you just fancy something a little lighter.

Spiralising has been the big trend here. Do I spiralise? I spiralise a bit. I spiralise from time to time. A courgette can make adequate “spaghetti” over which to serve a tomato-based sauce. Maybe some meatballs. It does the job but you can’t delude yourself it’s anywhere are nice as the real thing.

On the other hand, cauliflower “rice” might not be an exact substitute for the original but it’s legitimately delicious in its own right.

Here are two recipes for it, one cooked into nuttiness, the other raw, crisp and cooling.

butter melon cauliflower

Butter Melon, Cauliflower (serves 2)

I first came across this pun on the phrase Life Is But A Melancholy Flower in Barbara Trapido’s novel The Travelling Hornplayer. Musically talented but dyslexic Stella hears her cousins practising it as a round on their violins: “Back home with Mum and Dad I ask them, ‘What is a butter melon?’ but I don’t say why. I think of it as a sort of pumpkin.”

I’ve been vaguely musing on butter melons and cauliflowers ever since I read and loved the book. This is what I've come up with. It could be either a vegan main (maybe served with a spinach salad) or a side for grilled meat or fish.

Ingredients

  • ½ cauliflower
  • ¼ butternut squash
  • 3tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp cumin (ground, from fresh if possible)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon (ground)
  • 20g flaked almonds
  • 1 onion
  • 50g cooked chickpeas
  • 2 sprigs parsley

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
  2. Divide the cauliflower into florets and pulse them in a food processor until they resemble bulgar wheat. Depending on the size of your machine you might need to do it in a couple of batches. If you don’t have a food processor you can grate the cauliflower instead. Discard the stem or keep it for stock.
  3. Mix one tablespoon of oil, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper into the cauliflower grains and spread them out evenly on a baking tray.
  4. Peel and chop the butternut squash into 2cm chunks. Add the oil and the cinnamon and mix the pieces around until they are evenly coated. Lay them out on another baking tray (or use the same one as the cauliflower if there’s room.)
  5. Put the squash and the cauliflower in the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Check on them every five minutes. You want the cauliflower to get brown and nutty but not to burn. Take it out before the squash if it looks like it might.
  6. Meanwhile toast the almonds in a dry frying pan until golden brown. Remove to your serving bowl.
  7. Peel and chop the onion (I like it in slices but you can dice it if you prefer) and sweat over a low heat in the final tablespoon of oil until translucent. Then add the cumin and chickpeas and cook for another minute or so until the spice is fragrant.
  8. Mix everything together evenly, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Ifs And Ands

  • If you really are a super strict Paleo type, leave out the chickpeas which are legumes and therefore verboten to you for some reason I don't quite understand.
  • Try substituting pine nuts for almonds or mint/coriander for parsley.
  • Any other sort of pumpkin-like squash would work in place of the butternut.
  • If you like sweet/savoury dishes then raisins, chopped dried apricots or dates would be nice.
  • Leftovers are lovely cold with a lemony dressing.
  • I haven’t tried but I like the idea of stuffing a pepper or onion with this mixture.
  • If you don’t have plans for the rest of the squash, you may as well roast it all. Lay the remaining pieces out on a greaseproof paper-covered chopping board or baking tray and freeze. When they’re solid, transfer to a bag and put back in the freezer. You can add them straight to boiling stock and blend for a quick soup. Good for risottos too.
cauliflower tabouleh

Cauliflower “Tabbouleh”

I suppose here we’re pretending the cauliflower is bulgar wheat instead of rice. Whatever. It could be served as part of a mezze spread or goes really well with grilled lamb or fish, especially mackerel.

Ingredients

  • ½ cauliflower
  • 300g cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cucumber (try and get one of those small, slightly bumpy-skinned ones if you can. They’re crunchier)
  • 1 bunch spring onions
  • large bunch parsley
  • small bunch mint
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice

Method

  1. Process the cauliflower as in the recipe above. Put the grains in a large serving bowl.
  2. Put the oil and lemon juice in a lidded jar or bottle and shake until well combined and pour over the cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.
  3. Chop the cucumber in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and dice the rest. Thinly slice the spring onions, cut the cherry tomatoes into eighths and add them all to the bowl.
  4. Pick the parsley leaves from the stalks and finely chop them. Do the same to the mint. I will not lie to you - this bit is a hassle. You can try doing it in the food processor but it never comes out right, either not chopped properly or as a kind of mush. Slowly and methodically is the only way to go. You’re just going to have to put on some music or a podcast and get on with it (I recommend Fugitive Waves by The Kitchen Sisters for food stories from around the world).
  5. Add the herbs to the bowl, toss it all together and serve.

Ifs And Ands

  • A sprinkle of baharat spice mix over the top brings out the flavours. 
  • Crumbled feta cheese and pomegranate seeds make delicious, if inauthentic, additions.
  • Likewise, try substituting half of the lemon juice in the dressing for pomegranate molasses