Melissa Elsmo

Traditional Halloween treats are often known for being cutesy, but I much prefer to focus on the beautiful side of the macabre. And an evil ode to cannibalism makes for a memorably murderous meal this Halloween.  

Transforming a humble vegetable into an artsy ode to the human brain is a bewitchingly savory way to honor a holiday known for cloying treats. Who says a little lobotomy can’t make for a delectable dish? Leave the candy bars to the kiddos and keep the creepy cauliflower on hand for the ghoulish grown-ups in your life.

Channeling your inner mad-scientist or twisted mad-man on the plate is as simple as looking at a traditional ingredient through a new lens.  I chose to set the stage for my Halloween themed meal with skeletons, skulls and a sleek knife as a means to enhance the impact of this visually arresting culinary creation. While the entire “edible brain”  concept may be a little grisly, the flavors in this hearty side dish or vegetarian entrée are fundamentally sound.

A whole cauliflower head is first steeped in tea and then roasted with a drizzle of honey.  The resulting brain-shaped mass marries seamlessly with a vibrantly hued red pepper sauce.  Shelf stable items like canned tomatoes and roasted red peppers, allow the bloody looking sauce to come together with ease, while the addition of smoked paprika adds complexity of flavor.  Garnishes of goat cheese orbs, slick marcona almonds and sweet golden raisins add texture and intrigue to the dish.

Serving carved cross-sections of the tender “brain” with a splatter of bloody sauce is sure to conjure up dastardly thoughts among your guests on All Hollow’s Eve, but rest assured kitchen madness has never been quite so devilishly delicious.  

Boo and EEK!

Tea Brined “Brain” with Blood Red (Pepper) Sauce

This serves 8-10 as a side dish, but can be served as an entrée with a green salad.

INGREDIENTS:

For the “Brain:”

  • 1 Large head of cauliflower
  • ¼ Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Chili Flakes
  • 2-3 Tea Bags (I used English Breakfast)
  • ¼ Cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Honey
  • Kosher Salt and Coarse Black Pepper

For the Blood Red (Pepper) Sauce:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 Garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 16-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ Cup chicken stock
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • Kosher salt and coarse black pepper to taste

For the Garnishes:

  • 4 ounces Goat cheese, shaped into balls
  • Marcona Almonds
  • Golden Raisins
  • Bread of dipping (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

For the “Brains:”

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Trim away any leaves from the head of cauliflower and cut the stem so the vegetable can rest evenly on its flat side.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.  Add the sugar, salt, chili flakes and tea bags.  Reduce the heat to medium and allow the tea to steep for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags, increase the heat to medium-high and submerge the cauliflower, stem side down, in the tea.  Allow the cauliflower to cook for 9 minutes.  Using a large spoon, flip the cauliflower stem side up and continue cooking for an additional 4 minutes.

Place the cauliflower stem side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with the olive oil and honey before sprinkling with salt and pepper.  Roast the cauliflower in the preheated oven for 35 minutes until tender when pierced with a knife and spotty brown.  

For the Blood Red (Pepper) Sauce:  

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat and add the diced onion.  Season the onion with 1 teaspoon of salt and allow to cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and soft (about 6 minutes).  Add the sliced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until just fragrant (about 30 seconds).  Add the smoked paprika, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and chicken stock to the pot.  Mix well and allow to simmer for 20 minutes over medium-low heat.  

Adjust the seasoning (adding the sugar only if desired to balance flavors) and puree the sauce in a blender until smooth.  Keep warm until ready to serve.

To Serve:

Pour the sauce into a shallow pan or bowl.  Using a large spatula transfer the whole roasted cauliflower to the center of the sauce.  Toss the goat cheese into the warm sauce and sprinkle with a some marcona almonds and golden raisins. To enjoy the dish, slice the cauliflower and serve in small bowl topped with the sauce, cheese, almonds and raisins.  Use crusty bread to soak up the sauce if desired.

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