Recipe Sleuth: Proof’s Crispy Cauliflower With Tahini-Lemon Sauce

A dish that chef Haidar Karoum grew up eating is now a popular small plate at the Penn Quarter wine bar where he's executive chef.

Proof’s crispy cauliflower. Photograph by Erik Uecke

When chef Haidar Karoum was growing up, his Lebanese-born father always brought the same dish to potlucks and parties: crispy fried cauliflower topped with tahini sauce and chopped fresh mint.

"People loved it and asked for the recipe," Karoum says. "It was always the dish that got finished first."

We also gravitate toward the bowl of caramelized cauliflower, a standout on Karoum's menu at Proof.

While the recipe calls for a fryer or heavy pot and thermometer, you can also use the oven. Karoum says to toss the cauliflower florets in a tablespoon of olive oil, spread them on a sheet pan, and roast at 450 degrees, shaking the pan once or twice, for about 12 minutes.

"It's the difference between fried and roast chicken," says Karoum. "They're different, but both are delicious."

Proof's Crispy Cauliflower With Tahini-Lemon Sauce
Serves 4

4 cups canola oil, for frying
1 pound cauliflower  
Salt to taste
½ cup tahini sauce, recipe below
½ bunch mint, minced

In a large, heavy pot equipped with a fryer thermometer, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat until the temperature reaches 350 degrees.

While the oil is heating, cut the cauliflower into medium-size florets and divide into two or three batches. Gently drop the cauliflower into the heated oil and fry for 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the cauliflower from the oil and place in a bowl lined with paper towels. Season with salt to taste and place into four individual serving dishes. Top each bowl with 2 tablespoons of tahini sauce and a sprinkle of minced fresh mint.

Tahini Sauce

1 cup tahini (sesame paste), available at Whole Foods
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup water at room temperature
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
Dash of hot sauce, such as Texas Pete or Tabasco

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until emulsified. The tahini sauce, which makes more than the recipe requires, keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

See all Recipe Sleuths here

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.