“Cooking For Good Times” — Sort Of

Quinoa with cauliflower, olives, oranges, and herbs -- a dish for good times and more challenging ones.
Quinoa with cauliflower, olives, oranges, and herbs — a dish for good times and more challenging ones.

Ah, yes, it seems like a lifetime ago — though it was merely a few bewilderingly months back — that I was contemplating a trip to Chicago later this year.

How I looked forward to taking one of those architecture-themed boat ride tours on the lake that I’d heard so many good things about. How my husband was salivating at the thought of deep-dish pizza and loaded Chicago-style hot dogs. How I had looked forward to trying one of the restaurants by chefs Stephanie Izard and Paul Kahan. How I had already circled on my calendar the exact week I should start trying to snag a coveted reservation for my bucket-list meal at Alinea.

So much for that.

I have friends who swear they’re curtailing any traveling whatsoever until a vaccine is available to defeat this deadly virus. Me? I can’t say that getting on an airplane holds any appeal for the foreseeable future. If I do venture out of my area when restrictions are finally lifted, I think the car is the way to go, because I wouldn’t want to be too far from home with so many ifs, ands or buts still looming on this precarious horizon.

So for now, I’ll just experience Chicago vicariously, through Kahan’s newest cookbook, “Cooking for Good Times: Super Delicious, Super Simple” (Lorena Jones, 2019) by Kahan.

There’s a sweet irony to the title, isn’t there? Because many would say that we as far from good times as it gets.

Kahan, the James Beard Award-winning chef who owns a dozen acclaimed restaurants in Chicago, obviously wrote this book pre-pandemic. But its spirit is timeless. And its techniques and ideas perhaps even more useful as we all find ourselves cooking more resourcefully out of sheer necessity.

This book showcases how Kahan cooks at his home in Chicago and his cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin. He takes one method or core ingredient and riffs on it multiple ways to show its versatility.

Got salumi or sausage in the fridge? Then, you have the makings for “Salumi or Sausage with Pickled Cherries, Fennel, and Hard Cheese,” “Salumi or Grilled Sausage with Whipped Feta and Crushed Cucumbers,” or “Salumi or Grilled Sausage with Summer Squash, Carrots, and Green Sauce #2.”

Learn how to properly season, truss and roast a chicken, and you can then make “Roasted Chicken with Smashed and Crisped Potatoes and Green Sauce #1,” “Roasted Chicken with Celery Root, Apples, and Lydia’s Famous Buttermilk Dressing” or “Roasted Chicken with Roasted Grapes and Vetri’s Fennel.”

I found inspiration in his chapter on “Make Some Grains,” since I always have a variety of them in my pantry. In particular, I was drawn to “Grains with Roasted Cauliflower, Black Olives, and Oranges,” because I love that contrast of buttery, briny olives with sweet-tangy, juicy oranges. Plus, this is a dish you can enjoy pretty much anytime of year.

It's full of delicious, flavorful ingredients.
It’s full of delicious, flavorful ingredients.

You choose what grain you want in this recipe — be it farro, freekeh, basmati rice or something else. I went with quinoa. Roast cauliflower simply with olive oil, salt, pepper and chile flakes. Cook your grain, according to package directions. Then, it’s just a matter of gently tossing the quinoa and cauliflower florets with orange segments (I used Cara Cara oranges), onion, olives, parsley, mint, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and slivers of Fresno chile for a slight kick.

What you wind up with is something that looks like it should be very good for you — and it is. Moreover, it’s a riot of textures, flavors and colors, from crunchy and pliant, and cooked and raw to spicy and citrusy, sweet and zingy, and comforting and refreshing. It’s all of that in every forkful.

It’s feel-good food at a time when the world feels quite short of that wistful sentiment.

So many textures and flavors in every bite.
So many textures and flavors in every bite.

Grains with Roasted Cauliflower, Black Olives, and Oranges

(Makes 6 servings)

For roasted cauliflower:

1 small head cauliflower

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes

For rest of dish:

2 cups cooked grains of choice (follow the directions on the package), at room temp

2 oranges, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1 small red onion, sliced as thinly as you can

1 small Fresno chile, sliced as thinly as you can

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted black olives, such as Kalamata, Nicoise or oil-cured Moroccan

1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves

1/4 cup mint leaves, torn

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 cranks black pepper

Make the roasted cauliflower: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the cauliflower in a small baking dish and rub it with the oil, salt, and chile flakes. Roast until the cauliflower is tender when pierced with a fork and is starting to brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly and cut into bite-size pieces.

Put it together and serve: In a large serving bowl, combine the cauliflower, grains, oranges, onion, chile, olives, parsley, mint, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Toss, toss, toss! Taste to make sure everything is well mixed and then serve. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 days.

From “Cooking For Good Times” by Paul Kahan

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