I know that for some people, a meal is not a meal without a hunk of meat. I tend to think of those people as cowboys or German, not as elderly Guatemalan folks.
And yet, at the kitchen where I volunteer (prepping and doling out lunch to venerable locals), Ana, the woman with whom I work, has had at least one old man forgo his free daily meal simply because he said she was serving too much rice and beans.
“But this is Guatemala. That’s what everyone eats,” I said.
“Sí,” said Ana.
“So what did he want?”
Fine. The man wanted meat. But I’ve worked with Ana long enough to know that she whips up some amazing eats with the limited budget she has and that most–no, the majority–of her meals have some kind of chorizo, chicken, or even beef. So you’d have to be a real grump not to suck it up and eat the occasional (but still FREE!!!) meatless meal.
To date, none of the men or women I’ve met and served have been grumps at all. In fact, they’re usually so gracious and lovely that I kind of want to cry. Of course, I tear up watching people run 5K races, too, so that’s just me.
But the old grump was on my mind recently, when Ana and I made one of Guatemala’s more common dishes, coliflor envuelta en huevo (cauliflower coated in egg). You can, of course, coat plenty of things in eggs, but around here, comidas envueltas are typically par-cooked vegetables–like green beans, chayote, broccoli, or cauliflower–that have been coated in a fluffy egg batter then fried. Think tempura, except that instead of being crispy and light, the coating is pillowy, with a subtle egg flavor.
For coliflor envuelta, all you need are eggs, oil, salt, and a head of cauliflower; it’s incredibly easy to make. Ana and I served ours with rice, tortillas, and a tomato sauce (which is typical)–but, you’ll note, no meat.
As I brought plates of food out to the handful of señors and señoras who had gathered to eat, I braced myself for the possible transformation of the reserved and polite into meat-deprived cranky pants. I readied myself for demands for carne and tirades on the vileness of vegetarianism. But there were none. Everyone ate as peacefully as always. And when I tried the dish myself, I understood why. There’s simply no reason to complain. Coliflor envuelta is delicious just as is.
Coliflor Envuelto en Huevo (with Tomato Sauce)
Ana’s tomato sauce is even simpler than the one below: She boils the tomatoes, blends them until smooth, adds salt, and voilà! It’s a fine sauce, but I decided to add a bit more flavor by incorporating onion, garlic, and a splash of balsamic add the end. Of course, out of respect for Guatemala’s predilection for smooth, chunk-free sauces, I made sure to liquefy everything, too. Serve with rice.
Serves 2 to 4
For the tomato sauce:
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 lb. plum tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar (optional)
For the cauliflower:
1 – 1 1/4 lb. head cauliflower, trimmed and sliced into 4 to 6 wedges
4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
Oil for the pan
Fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)
MAKE THE TOMATO SAUCE
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering hot. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, 1/4 cup water, and a pinch of salt, cover, and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have mostly broken down, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Blend until smooth and season with salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar to taste. Keep warm.
MAKE THE CAULIFLOWER
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the cauliflower and cook until barely fork tender (the wedges should hold their shape), 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and allow some of the excess water to evaporate.
In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Quickly fold in the egg yolks and 1/2 tsp. salt.
Heat 3 Tbs. of the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering hot. Using your hands, dip one of the cauliflower wedges into the egg batter, coating it thoroughly, and put it in the pan. Repeat with one or two additional wedges, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry the cauliflower, gently flipping it occasionally, until golden-brown all over, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining wedges, adding more oil to the pan, if necessary.
Serve the cauliflower hot with the tomato sauce spooned over top and a sprinkling of cilantro (if using).