This was my first recipe since embarking on the Nopi Challenge, so of course in my typical
crazy, obsessive, type-A personality lunacy fastidious nature, I wanted to make sure it came out perfectly. I had to go to more than one store (thanks for nothing, Whole Foods) to find the celery root, but it was absolutely worth the second trip (thanks for everything, Harris Teeter). I opted to serve this dish, which would normally be an appetizer, with a bit of halibut to make it substantial enough for dinner. It was truly a work of sickening beauty. Let’s call it the celebrity of dinners.
If you haven’t worked with celery root, don’t worry and try not to be afraid. It’s an ugly little critter of a root vegetable, but it’s delicious beauty will always shine through. Let’s call it the Quasimodo of all vegetables. Just make sure before you use it to clean it pretty well (the bloody thing is filthy) and peel it. If you have an exceptional amount of upper body strength and a remarkably sharp vegetable peeler, use that. If you’re anything like me, just carefully trim it with a knife.
After cooking down an onion for a few minutes (my eyes felt fantastic after cutting the onion, just so you know) add your garlic and two bay leaves, and then the cut up celery root. Cook it down for about 10 minutes, and then pour in your vegetable stock and bring the whole shebang to a boil until the celery root is knife tender (15 minutes or so)
Once the celery root is tender (you can test it by putting a knife through it) run the entire mixture through your food processor before adding the tahini, lemon juice, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. It’s almost like a take on hummus with the addition of the tahini, but the paprika adds the loveliest warm, smoky flavor. It’s divine, really. I never lie to you and I won’t start now.
For this particular recipe you need to coarsely grate the cauliflower. It’s a little bit time consuming, but don’t try to get away with thinly cutting it because the texture won’t be right and the entire garnish will be a bizarre mess. I tried to be slick by believing I could get away without grating it, but had to suck it up and waltz myself up the street to buy a grater. Shortcuts are for chumps, people. Don’t be a chump, be a winner.
After cooking down another onion (eyes were feeling A1 at this point, everyone) you add a bit more garlic followed by a spice called ras el hanout. If you’re not so lucky as to find it pre-made at the grocery store (I couldn’t. Thanks for nothing, every grocery store in DC), you can make it yourself, which I of course had to do. Ras el hanout is a spice blend (you could essentially call it Morocco’s answer to Garam Masala) and has quite a few ingredients. Should you not be able to find it, feel free to use this recipe.
The only thing left for the cauliflower mixture would be to add the actual cauliflower, a bit of preserved lemon, chopped almonds and a dash of salt. Just before you are ready to serve, quickly crack the quail egg directly into a pan, season it, and cook it for about a minute or so.
The result is a glorious flavor bomb that detonates in your mouth. Like really, kaboom. The purée is smoky, earthy and rich, and the cauliflower is complex from the ras el hanout. The egg adds a nice crispiness and the garnish of parsley adds a fresh, herbal note.
This dish was complex in terms of flavor, yet relatively easy to make. The mise en place was slightly time consuming, so should you decide to make it start a little bit early. It’s worth it, I promise.
Celery Root Purée with Spiced Cauliflower and Quail Eggs