Brian Nasajon lives for moments like this.
The aquamarine in the young chef’s eyes sparkles when he learns that a diner is about to try cauliflower for the first time in his life — and it’s Nasajon’s dish here at Beaker & Gray.
The diner says he has never been a fan of the pale, white florets — although he’s never actually tasted one.
“How do you know you’ll hate it if you’ve never tried it!” Nasajon tells him. “Aw, this guy’s going to be a hard sell.”
He moves the multi-colored florets around the bowl and finally raises his fork to his mouth. The moment the dish’s rich, canary-yellow huancaina sauce, mixed with chunks of bacon and its drippings from Nasajon’s vinaigrette, hits his palate, he looks up with wide eyes.
“Dios mio!” he says. “This is fantastic!” He digs in for another forkful. “If you want some, you better serve yourself because I might finish the whole thing,” he says.
Nasajon pumps his fist. “His wanting to have a second bite made my day,” he says, clapping his hands together.
Look out, finicky eaters. A trend of tasty vegetables sweeping across Miami’s fine dining restaurants has the power to transform even the most reluctant little boys and girls inside us into ravenous veggie lovers.
In the right hands, cauliflower, carrots, beets — the bane of school cafeteria lunches — are going from a hard sell to elevated haute cuisine.
And that’s why the Miami Herald asked three top chefs whose dishes have captured the tastebuds of Miami diners to share the secrets to their veggies.
Their recipes range from straightforward to tricky. But they all have a creative bent that raises them not only to the level of art — but worthy of your picky eater’s plate.
CAULIFLOWER WITH A KICK
Nasajon’s father, Tony, a Brazilian raised in Uruguay who loves grilled meats, wrinkled his nose at Nasajon’s idea for a cauliflower dish. Wouldn’t even try it, at first.
Like so many of us raised on bland boiled vegetables, there is a stigma to overcome, one that often goes back to childhood.
“He couldn’t get over it: ‘I don’t like cauliflower, I don’t want to try it. No, no, no,’ ” Nasajon remembers. When he did try it, “he was surprised he really liked it.”
The key to Nasajon’s dish is to ban the boiling. He stumbled upon it by surprise when one day, during a crush at dinner, they ran out of blanched cauliflower and had to start the dish with raw cauliflower, seared in the pan. It worked. The cauliflower was more firm and retained its texture when he dunked it in the lip-smacking mixtures of his house-made bacon vinaigrette and huancaina sauces. He finishes it with a yuzu foam he makes by dipping his immersion blender into yuzu juice and scooping out the froth. Short of that, you could squeeze yuzu or a lime over the dish to give it acidic brightness, he says.
The key to the dish is to chop the florets into small pieces that are small and uniform enough to be evenly coated by the bacon-huancaina sauce and sear them in oil on high heat so they char slightly.
The dish can be made vegetarian by leaving out the bacon vinaigrette.
CARROTS WITH A FLURRY OF FLAVORS
Versions of roasted carrots have been popping up all over Miami, and one that is getting attention is the heirloom roasted carrots at The Continental on Miami Beach.
Chef Richard Torres said the restaurant wanted a light dish with a cool Greek yogurt and drizzled with a house-made honey-ginger sauce. He says the marriage of these Mediterranean flavors is what makes the dish interesting.
But don’t let the simplicity fool you. The dish has its tricks to keep your palate interested, not the least of which is flash-fried quinoa to add texture. Remember: Limp, flavorless carrots are not your friend.
“When we think about carrots, we think of them floating in a pot of stew. This is a side dish,” Torres said. “I like the simplicity of carrots themselves.”
The key to the carrots is trying to find heirloom carrots, even in different colors, that naturally have a richer, earthy flavor. Then, roasting them on high heat to force residual moisture out of them.
“It intensifies the flavor as it roasts,” Torres said.
A BEET SALAD TO CHANGE HEARTS
Beets taste like dirt. And their juice turns everything as red as a murder scene.
Many people have had beets only pickled, bright red and staining everything in sight when they come out of the can.
“It’s not something people grow up eating. I didn’t,” Pinch Kitchen chef John Gallo said. “But do it right, and people will love them.”
His beet salad, which started as a special one weekend, became such a hit in January that regulars asked him to put it on the menu.
“Everybody raves about them,” he said.
The secret to these savory and tender beets is to treat them like barbecue: Cook them low and slow, with plenty of seasoning. Gallo, whose grandparents owned restaurants in Cuba, takes care of his beets by boiling them for more than an hour in a brine with thyme and bay leaf.
“The process really opens up the beets. They don’t just taste like earth,” he said.
The salad comes together with his herbed goat cheese and golden raisins soaked in rose water.
Do Try This At Home
Try your hand at making any of these three dishes and post a photo of the results on our new Miami Herald Food Facebook page. We’ll share some of the best photos. www.facebook.com/MiamiHeraldFood
Beaker & Gray’s Cauliflower With Bacon, Queso Fresco And Yuzu
3 heads multi-color cauliflower
3 ounces scallions, chopped
Huancaina sauce (see separate recipe)
Bacon vinaigrette (see separate recipe)
Chili vinaigrette (see separate recipe)
Cut cauliflower into small florets. Bring sauté pan to very high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Add cauliflower and pinch of salt. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. To sauté pan, add huancaina and let cool until sauce is reduced by half. (Sauce should be thick.) Place cauliflower in serving dish, keeping sauté pan hot. Add bacon and chili vinaigrette mixture to sauté pan, let it warm up, then pour over cauliflower.
To garnish, add 3 ounces chopped scallions and serve yuzu foam (see recipe) using spotted spoon to maintain foam texture.
For the huancaina sauce
3 ounces shallots, thinly sliced
1 ounce garlic, thinly chopped
1/4 ounce salt
1 1/2 ounce aji amarillo sauce*
3/4 cup sake
3 cups heavy cream
2 ounces Parmesan cheeseSweat out garlic and shallots with salt over medium heat. Add aji amarillo and cook for 2 minutes. Deglaze with sake. Add heavy cream. Bring to a simmer. Stir in Parmesan. Blend and reserve. *Aji amarillo sauce is available at Sedano’s and some other Latin markets.
For the chili vinaigrette
1 ounce Fresno peppers
1/2 ounce jalapeño
1/2 ounce garlic
2 ounces shallots
7 ounces champagne vinegar
2 ounces red wine vinegar
4 ounces sugar
1 ounce fish sauce
Pinch of salt
Thinly slice ingredients, place in pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool. (Chili vinaigrette will be added to bacon vinaigrette).
For the bacon vinaigrette
1 pound bacon
2 cups chili vinaigrette (recipe above)
3/4 cup sugar
1 ounce salt
Cut bacon into small, thin dices. Place into cold pot and set over very low heat. Cook until mostly rendered. Add sugar and salt. Continue to cook until the rest of the bacon is rendered out. Add chili vinaigrette. Cook until most of vinegar is cooked out and bacon vinaigrette is thick. Let cool to room temperature.
For the yuzu foam
2 cups yuzu juice
Pinch of soy lecithin
Bring all ingredients to a simmer. Stir until lecithin is dissolved and let cool. Whisk or use immersion blender to create foam-like texture.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Pinch Kitchen’s Organic Beet Salad With Herbed Goat Cheese
3 medium organic red beets
3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup scallion greens
1/4 cup picked tarragon leaves
1/4 cup picked oregano leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup rose water
1/4 cup toasted & chopped pistachios, skin on
1/4 cup plain goat cheese
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt to taste
Place the beets in a medium size pot, cover with water, add thyme and bay leaf and season the water with salt until it tastes like ocean water. Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid and cook on medium. You want a steady boil but not a rolling boil, for about one hour. Poke the beets with a skewer, and if the skewer goes through without any resistance, the beets are cooked. Otherwise, continue to cook for up to another half-hour.
Strain beets from water and let cool slightly. With a kitchen rag rub the skin off the beets. Do not let the beets get cold or it will be harder to peel off skin. It’s best to wear gloves so the beets don’t stain your hands red. Dice the peeled beets and let them cool.
Preparing the herbed goat cheese
Remove cheese from refrigerator and allow to soften. Place the cheese into a food processor with the lemon juice, tarragon, oregano and half the scallion greens. Blend on medium speed until it starts to come together, then on high until the cheese becomes a bright pastel green color. Season with salt to taste.
Preparing the golden raisins
Place the golden raisins into a small pot, cover with rose water, bring to a simmer and shut off the flame. Let the raisins cool inside the rose water for at least half an hour.
Place a medium dollop of the herbed goat cheese onto the bottom of the plate. Spread the cheese using the back of the spoon to make a “swoosh.” Toss 1/2 cup of the diced red beets in a bowl with sherry vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon of raisins. Season with salt to taste. Place beets on top of the herbed goat cheese, straining it of any residual liquid from the bowl as you plate. Crumble plain goat cheese on top of the beets. Add a few pinches of chopped toasted pistachios and the remaining scallion, sliced into thin rings.
Yield: 2 servings
The Continental’s Roasted Heirloom Carrots
Handful rainbow carrots
2 ounces citrus vinaigrette (see separate recipe)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
Drizzle of ginger honey (see recipe)
1 tablespoon fried quinoa (see recipe)
1 tablespoon frilly red mustard greens
1 tablespoon carrot tops
At the bottom of the bowl, swirl on the Greek yogurt. Heat the carrots portions in a 350-degree oven. Dress the carrots lightly with extra virgin olive oil and 2 ounces of citrus vinaigrette. Stack the carrots into a mound on top of the Greek yogurt. Drizzle the ginger honey over the carrots. Garnish the dish with carrot tops, frilly mustard, and the crispy quinoa. Finish with a pinch of sea salt and small drizzle of the olive oil.
Yield: 6 portions
For the roasted carrots
4 pounds rainbow bunching carrots
6 ounces marinade (see separate recipe)
1 Meyer lemon, halved
4 blood oranges, halved
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons salt
In a roasting pan, rub the whole unpeeled carrots with marinade to coat well. Add the halved
citrus, herbs, salt, and olive oil. Roast carrots at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. The carrots should be
tender. Squeeze citrus over carrots and store.
For the marinade
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon thyme leaf
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 ounces white miso
4 1/2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce sherry vinegar
In a sauté pan, toast the cumin. Grind the cumin to a fine powder. Combine with all other ingredients in a food processor.
Yield: 15 ounces
For the crispy quinoa
1 cup red quinoa
5 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
In a medium pot, cook the quinoa in water and salt. Bring the mixture to boil, and then reduce
heat to a simmer and cover. Cook this way until the quinoa is cooked all the way through. Cool
on a sheet tray. Fry in hot oil over high heat. Remove from pan and season with salt.
Yield: 1/2 cup
For the ginger honey
3 1/2 ounces ginger
10 ounces honey
Slice the ginger thin, and combine with honey in a small pot. Cook slowly over low heat for at
least 30 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Yield: 13 1/2 ounces
For the citrus vinaigrette
7 ounces orange juice, fresh squeezed
3 1/2 ounces lemon juice, fresh squeezed
10 ounces extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 ounce reserved carrot cooking liquid
Combine citrus juice, reserved carrot cooking liquid and salt in a bowl and whisk in the extra virgin olive oil.
Yields: 19 ounces