Nearly three years ago Molly Wizenberg wrote a blog post on Parmesan-roasted cauliflower, a recipe she discovered from Bon Appétit one that, as the magazine promised, would become her go-to. The process is simple: Toss a head of cauliflower florets, a few unpeeled garlic cloves, and a sliced onion with olive oil, salt and a few thyme sprigs. Roast in a hot oven, and after 30 minutes, when everything—the florets, the onions, the garlic—begins caramelizing, sprinkle it with Parmesan and cook until the cheese melts, forming what Molly describes as “lacy, frico-like webs and shards.”
Molly offers a few ideas on how to serve the cauliflower, including tossing it with pasta or spooning it into bowls and topping with a fried egg. She also notes you could just eat it, and “call it a meal,” the title of her post. For years, I called it a side dish, and rarely strayed from the recipe. But since discovering the beauty of the sheet pan supper, I used the recipe as a jumping-off point, adding spices to change the flavor, and chicken to make it a more complete meal.
The seasonings in my recent variation evoke shawarma, a Middle Eastern street food typically prepared on a vertical rotisserie with lamb or chicken, which cooks for hours. Everything comes together in about the same amount of time as the original recipe, the only additional work being making a spice mix and buying chicken. It’s simple: First, rub the cauliflower and onions with a mix of toasted cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, and cayenne. Roast for 30 minutes, then add boneless, skinless chicken thighs (rubbed in the same spice mix) to the sheet pan, and cook for 10 minutes more. By the end, just as in the original recipe, the cauliflower and onions caramelize, becoming meltingly tender and irresistibly sweet. As the chicken thighs cook, moreover, they release their juices, which seep into the vegetables, making them even tastier.
Serve this mix of smoky, spicy chicken and vegetables with naan and a lemony yogurt sauce, and call it a meal—a new go-to sheet pan meal.
A Few Tips:
- If you have a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, toasting whole cumin and coriander seeds will impart better flavor—fresher, smokier, earthier—than pre-ground. Toast the seeds in a small skillet over medium-high heat until they turn light brown and smell fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Grind in a mortar and pestle with the smoked paprika and cayenne. This step requires just a few more minutes of time and effort, but the scent and flavor are worth it. I also like the visual appeal as well as the texture of the partially crushed seeds coating the vegetables and meat.
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts could be substituted for the thighs. To use boneless breasts instead of thighs, check them after 8 minutes—depending on their size, they may take more or less time than the thighs.
- This could certainly be made vegetarian by omitting the chicken—the spiced onions and cauliflower are irresistible on their own. You could use a mix of cauliflower, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, or any of your favorite roasting vegetables.
- Some sort of sauce is essential. A cooling Greek yogurt sauce, whose tang so nicely complements the sweet vegetables, works particularly well here, but you could also use a tahini sauce or an herby sauce with a good amount of acidity. To make a simple yogurt sauce: Stir together 1 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Taste and adjust with more salt or lemon to taste. Another delicious sauce option is this: Yogurt-Tahini Sauce.
Note: This is not traditional shawarma, which is typically made with chicken or lamb and cooked on a vertical rotisserie for hours, then sliced thinly. —Alexandra Stafford
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 45 minutes
- Serves 4 to 6
Neutral oil, for greasing
large head cauliflower (about 2.5 lbs pre trimming), cut into florets, large florets halved or quartered if necessary (see photo above as a reference)
large onion, sliced
olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and fresh pepper, to taste
whole cumin seeds or ground cumin, see notes above
whole coriander seeds or ground coriander, see notes
cloves garlic, minced
boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 1.5 lbs.
Lemon wedges, flatbread, and yogurt sauce (see notes) for serving
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF and position a rack in the center. Rub a sheet pan with about a teaspoon of neutral oil. Place cauliflower florets and onion on top. Season all over with a teaspoon of kosher salt and pepper to taste, and 3 tablespoons of the oil.
- In a small bowl, stir together the cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, and cayenne. (If using whole seeds, see notes above.) Pour half (about 1 tablespoon and a scant teaspoon) of this mixture over the cauliflower. Use your hands to toss the cauliflower and onions evenly with the oil and spice mix. Transfer pan to the oven and roast for about 30 minutes, tossing once after about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place chicken thighs in a large bowl. Season all over with salt (at least another teaspoon). Add the remaining spice mix, remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and minced garlic. Toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature while vegetables roast.
- Remove the sheet pan from the oven. Toss everything around. Nestle the thighs around the vegetables. Return pan to the oven and cook for 10 minutes—if thighs are large, they may need 5 more minutes or so. Cut into one to check. Remove pan from the oven and let everything rest on the sheet pan for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, stir together the yogurt sauce (see notes), warm up some bread, cut the lemons, etc. When chicken has rested, transfer it to a platter to cut or cut directly on the sheet pan, taking care not to ruin your pan. The chicken should be in 1- to 2-inch cubes or so—about the same size as the cauliflower. Return chicken to sheet pan or to a serving platter along with the cauliflower. Toss everything together. Taste. Adjust with more salt and pepper if necessary and squeeze a lemon over everything, if desired. To serve, spread flatbread with yogurt sauce, nestle chicken and cauliflower inside, and eat taco-style. Alternatively, serve the flatbread on the side and eat with a knife and fork. Serve lemon wedges on the side.