Meera Sodha’s vegan recipe for whole roast cauliflower and nut pilaf | Vegan food and drink

A vegan Christmas dinner recipe has to perform on many levels. It has to have some showmanship about it, so that it feels special enough to bring to the table. It has to stand alone, yet also sit alongside a traditional turkey dinner and all the trimmings, because that is, I think, how a lot of people still eat at Christmas. And, crucially, it shouldn’t overwhelm the cook, who will already be very busy. I hope this week’s recipe will deliver on all of these things, to ensure you have a joyful day both in the kitchen and at the table.

Whole roast cauliflower and nut pilaf

You could make the sauce and rice ahead, and warm up the rice just before serving, either in a microwave or by adding a few teaspoons of water to the rice pan, covering and gently reheating, before stirring through the herbs and serving. The cauliflower, however, is best fresh out of the oven, but if it has to come out early, it can sit for a while; give it a quick blast in the oven later, until crisp and hot.

Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 20 min
Serves 4

For the cauliflower
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp kashmiri chilli powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp
rapeseed oil
1 large cauliflower
(or 2 small ones), leaves removed (800g net)

For the pilaf
300g basmati rice
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 onions
, peeled and sliced
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground black pepper

50g shelled unsalted pistachios
50g whole almonds
, roughly chopped in half
20g fresh coriander, finely chopped
20g fresh parsley, finely chopped

For the tahini sauce
85g tahini
3 tbsp
rapeseed oil
1 lemon
, juiced to get 2 tbsp
½ small garlic clove, peeled and grated
⅓ tsp fine sea salt

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. In a small bowl, mix the cumin, chilli powder, half a teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of oil until you have a smooth paste.

Cut the base of the core off the cauliflower, so it stands flat. Rub the whole cauliflower all over with the spice paste, then put it in a high-sided or lipped baking tray. Pour 100ml warm water around the cauliflower, roast for an hour, until golden on top and tender inside (check by prodding with a skewer or cake tester), then remove and set aside.

While the cauliflower is roasting, wash the rice really well in a sieve, until the water runs clear, then put in a bowl, pour over warm water to cover and leave to soak until needed.

Put four tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, turn on the heat to medium, then saute the onions with a teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes, until soft and dark.

Add the spices, cook for a minute, then add the nuts and stir to coat. Drain the rice well, then add to the onions, give everything one more stir to distribute the nuts and onions through the rice, then add 450ml just-boiled water and clap on the lid. Bring to a boil, cook for a couple of minutes, then turn down to the lowest heat and cook for 12 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to steam and settle for 10 minutes – do not lift the lid.

While the rice settles, make the tahini sauce. Put everything in a jam jar or similar, add four tablespoons of cold water, then shake like a person possessed until you have an emulsified sauce: it should be like double cream and pourable; if it is too thick, add a smidge more water; too thin, more tahini paste. Check the seasoning and adjust the salt and lemon juice as necessary.

To serve, stir the chopped herbs through the rice, then tip out on to your best platter and top with the cauliflower head. Pour the tahini sauce into a pretty jug. Stick a sharp knife in the cauliflower and encourage guests to help themselves to rice, a wedge of cauliflower and a healthy pouring of tahini sauce.

Fiona Beckett’s drinks match

Under £10
Little Pomona Table Cider £9.50, or 3 for £27, 7%. Cider is such an underrated pairing for food, and this one would be great with this pilau.

Over £10
Château de Berne ‘Inspiration’ Rosé 2021 £16.99 (or £14.99 on “mix six”) Majestic, 13%. Classic, pale, smooth Provence rosé that would go well with gently spiced food such as this dish. Also available in magnum, which would be fun.

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