I am inherently suspicious of restaurant recipes marketed to the home cook, restaurant cooking and home cooking are two very different breeds, one toy poodle, the other shaggy haired retriever, each with their own place and purpose. I am even more suspicious of recipes masquerading one ingredient as another: zucchini pretending to be spaghetti, pizza made with a turnip crust (really), mock cashew cheese.
So naturally, I was quite suspicious when I read about "cauliflower couscous," in which tiny bits of cauliflower make a couscous-like dish. I was even skeptical about the sauce recipe, I mean, basil, lemon, and maple syrup, it sounded weird. But the reviews were so enthusiastic over on Leites Culinaria that I was intrigued enough to give it a try. I already had a head of green cauliflower (why green? it just looked so pretty at the store), and I had purple basil in my garden (I always plant purple basil, because it just looks cooler). My main piece of advice is that chopping the cauliflower can be a messy prospect, use a big cutting board and surround the edge with a rolled up dish towel to catch flying crumbs, then simply run your knife around the outer edges of the cauliflower, shaving off bits. As you get closer to the center of the cauliflower you'll have to do some more chopping, and I've also heard you can do the whole thing buy grating the cauliflower with a box grater.
And as for the end result? Well, I stand corrected because it was darn good. No, it's not a replacement for couscous, but think of it as a whole new way of seeing cauliflower. The recipe is just-right as written, but I imagine you could play around sauteing the cauliflower bits with a variety of seasonings and sauces: butter and nutmeg in the winter, spicy curry paste, or sumac and black olives, oh the possibilities.
Cauliflower "Couscous" with Basil-Lemon Sauce
For the sauce:
about 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
zest and juice of 1 lemons, preferably Meyer
1/4 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
For the cauliflower:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, very finely diced
1 medium head cauliflower, florets finely diced (or grated), stems and stalks discarded
kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
optional: fresh basil chiffonade for garnish
Make the sauce:
1. Combine the basil, lemon zest and juice, oil, and maple syrup in a blender. Purée and transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about 7 to 10 days.
Make the couscous:
1. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large saute pan or dutch oven over high heat. Add the onion and sauté until the onion softens, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the cauliflower, stir thoroughly, salt and pepper liberally, and cook until the cauliflower softens, about 10-12 minutes.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of the sauce and cook until tender and fragrant, another 10 minutes. Adjust the salt, add the remaining sauce, mix thoroughly, and transfer to a serving bowl. Top with the basil chiffonade.