I’ve been spending a lot of time at the grocery store. Not shopping, but standing there behind a little sample table, proselytizing my Made by Lukas veggie burgers. I walk into the store and press play on the soundbite that’s tattooed into my brain—”Care to try a fresh vegetable veggie burger? Here, have a taste! These are Made-by-Lukas fresh-vegetable-veggie-burgers! The orange one is Carrot-Parsnip, the red one is beet. Yes, absolutely please do try both! Eighty percent fresh, locally sourced vegetables—our kitchen is up in the Hudson Valley—and quinoa, seeds, millet, and spices make up the rest! No soy! No wheat! Right over there in the cold case next to the tofu!” Repeat a thousand times.
And when I walk out, it takes about an hour before I can turn it off. Don’t get me wrong. I like—I love—these veggie burgers, and I’m proud of the product and even the spiel. It’s incredibly exciting to introduce them to the eaters who are going to get them and love them as I do, and gratifying when that happens. And while it’s occasionally exhausting, it’s mostly amusing when I step back to assess: So this is where my life has taken me. How interesting.
At those store demonstrations, I make mini-burgers, which I pass out while they’re still warm and crisp. And just as my spiel has become second nature, such that it practically spills out of my mouth whenever I open it, the same thing might be happening to my hands when I get home and start cooking for myself. When my friend Lesley and I took a day trip out to the North Fork a few weekends ago, we bought some of the largest cauliflowers we’d ever seen from a roadside farm stand. Over the following week I roasted two trays, I tried cauliflower “couscous,” I threw some into a stir fry . . . and I made these little cauliflower cakes a few times.
They look a lot like crab cakes, and can be thought of as a vegetarian counterpart to those. They’re a bit tangy, especially with the green sauce, and versatile enough to function as an appetizer or snack, even cold or room temperature, but they’re just rich and sturdy enough to work as a light main dish. My instinct was to serve them with some kind of yogurt sauce, but I much prefer this vegan cilantro one, which is loosely based on that green sauce that Laurie Colwin wrote about in More Home Cooking. It’s got a slightly creamy quality, and the mustard gives it a little bit of heat. These cakes are the perfect thing to make from leftover roasted cauliflower, which the genesis, but while I haven’t tried it yet, I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t be just as good with broccoli or romanesco.
Cauliflower Cakes with Cilantro Sauce
Makes 18 to 22 cakes
2 heaping cups cooked (roasted or steamed both work fine) cauliflower florets*
1/4 cup minced onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons grated gruyere, parmesan, or pecorino cheese (optional)
3 tablespoons loosely packed, coarsely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon flour
Place the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse several times until coarsely chopped—the largest pieces should be about the size of a corn kernel. Add the eggs, cheese, parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse several times more, until combined.
Transfer the mixure to a bowl and stir in 1/3 cup breadcrumbs and the flour. Add more breadcrumbs as needed, until the mixture just begins to cohere, but allow it to be delicate—avoid adding too much breadcrumbs, as they’ll dampen the flavors. Let stand for 10 to 20 minutes.
(If you don’t have a food processor, you can finely chop up the cauliflower or mash it with a fork, and then stir the remaining ingredients in by hand.)
Heat a splash of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Use a tablespoon to shape the mixture into small patties, then add the to the oil. Cook the patties in batches, 6 to 8 at a time, depending on the size of your skillet, for 2 to 4 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and slightly firmed to the tough. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with cilantro sauce on the side.
* Here’s a good method for roasting cauliflower if you don’t have one already.
Makes about 2/3 cup
1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
1 small garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups loosely packed, coarsely chopped cilantro
Place the ingredients in the tall cup that comes with an immersion blender, then use the immersion blender to puree until smooth. Add 1 to 3 tablespoons water as needed to get the mixture moving and create a fluffier consistency. Alternatively, puree the sauce in a mini-food processor or blender, scraping down the sides as necessary.