Za’atar Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Harissa Tahini Dressing

This za’atar roasted cauliflower salad with harissa tahini dressing is bold, flavorful, and meal-worthy! Made with roasted red onions and lentils for plant protein.

A white plate has been covered with a vibrant salad of za'atar roasted cauliflower, red onion, lentils and greens.

I first started making this vibrant, colorful cauliflower salad when I was in graduate school to become an RD. I needed salads that could easily pack up and transport. They had to be meal-sized as well as portable, hearty enough to keep me full as I studied and sat through three hour lectures.

This za’atar roasted cauliflower salad fit the bill. It’s super flavorful, full of texture, and satisfying. Best of all, the leftovers keep really nicely for a few days in the fridge. And the harissa tahini dressing that accompanies the salad lasts for about five days. The entire salad is good for meal prep.

I’m not a student anymore, but I always appreciate any recipe that I can make-ahead. Salad included.

A white plate has been covered in a hearty, wintery salad with roasted vegetables and cooked lentils.

Za’atar roasted cauliflower salad ingredients

This salad is full of big texture and big flavor. It was created with Middle Eastern influences in mind, namely the za’atar spice on the roasted veggies and the swirl of harissa in the tahini dressing. I love these flavors, and they add so much character to a simple marriage of ingredients.

Other ingredients: cauliflower, of course! The cauliflower gives the salad substance and lots of good nutrition; cauliflower is a good source of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and folate.

I also add lentils to the za’atar roasted cauliflower salad. You can use brown, green, pardina, or black (beluga) lentils. I don’t recommend red lentils, which are too mushy to work in a salad like this.

I top this salad with a lemony, spicy harissa tahini dressing. The harissa is optional if you don’t have it—garlic and lemon and creamy tahini go a long way—but it adds a lot of character to the dressing.

What is za’atar spice?

Za’atar is an herb. The way I’m using the word here—and what it often references—is a spice mixture that includes the herb itself, along with sesame seeds, sumac, salt, and (sometimes) other spices.

I usually purchase my za’atar spice mix; I’m a big fan of local brand Zesty Z. But it’s also very possible to make your own za’atar spice blend at home. I really like Adeena Sussman’s recipe.

If you don’t have za’atar at home and you’re keen to make the salad anyway, you can try using oregano, sumac, or a combination of both to roast the cauliflower.

Preparing za’atar roasted cauliflower salad

You’ll need to roast veggies and cook lentils for the za’atar roasted cauliflower salad. Therefore, it’s not a quick-assembly salad, though it’s easy to make if you do some meal prep in advance. You can roast the vegetables and/or prep the lentils a day in advance. And you can definitely used canned lentils to save yourself a cooking step, too.

The harissa tahini dressing can be whisked together up to four days in advance.

Storage and transportation

If you do want to make the salad ahead of time, I recommend storing the roast vegetables and lentils in one airtight container. Store the arugula and dressing separately.

When you’re ready to pack up the za’atar roasted cauliflower salad for work or school, pile the arugula at the bottom of a storage container. Top it with veggies and lentils, and then seal the container. Transport the dressing in a small, separate container (I love these).

More hearty make-ahead salads

If you love meal-sized salads for your take-to-work or take-to-school or work-from-home routine, I have a bunch of favorites:

A zoomed in, birds eye photograph of a za'atar roasted cauliflower salad, which rests on a white ceramic plate.
A white plate has been covered with a vibrant salad of za'atar roasted cauliflower, red onion, lentils and greens.
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Za’atar Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the Salad:

  • 3/4 cup dry lentils (brown, green, French, pardina, or beluga)
  • 1 medium head cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized florets (about 1 3/4 lbs after prepping)
  • 1 large red onion, sliced into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil (substitute grapeseed, safflower, or another neutral cooking oil)
  • 2 tablespoons za’atar spice mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 4 heaping cups arugula

For the harissa tahini dressing:

  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 large clove garlic crushed or very finely minced
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice about 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon harissa paste (add more if you prefer more heat)

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 400F. If you’re cooking lentils from scratch, mix the dry lentils in a saucepan with enough water to cover them by two inches. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are still tender but retain their shape and firmness. You can start testing them at the 20 minute mark for doneness. Drain the lentils and set them aside.
  • While the lentils cook, toss the cauliflower florets and sliced onion with the oil, za’atar, lemon, paprika, salt, and black pepper. Spread the veggies onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. Roast the vegetables for 20-25 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and lightly browning, and the onions are getting crispy. Check on the veggies and stir them on the sheet halfway through roasting. Allow the roasted vegetables to cool to room temperature.
  • While the veggies roast, whisk together the tahini, water, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and harissa to make the dressing. If it’s too thick, add a few extra tablespoons of water.
  • When the vegetables are cool, toss them together with the lentils and arugula. Serve with dressing immediately. Alternately, you can store the roasted veggies and lentils, arugula, and dressing separately and mix when ready to eat.
A za'atar roasted cauliflower and green salad has been plated against a white surface. Extra tahini dressing is in a glass container in the background.

This is most definitely a filling salad. However, pairing it with a nice soup (like my carrot, turmeric and ginger soup) would be a perfect accompaniment. You could also add some cooked quinoa, farro, or barley for extra nutrition and satisfaction. Sometimes I serve the za’atar roasted cauliflower salad with whole grain pita wedges. They’re also a great addition!

However you serve this flavorful salad, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

xo

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    19 Comments
  1. You mention tossing the cauliflower and onion wedges with paprika. I don’t see paprika in the ingredient list. How much paprika do I use?

  2. za’atar is my favorite seasoning for roasted veggies! It adds such complexity to a dish without being overwhelming. And this tahini dressing sounds INCREDIBLE! Definitely going to have to make this very soon! xo

    • I agree entirely, Becca! Za’atar is so flavorful, but it doesn’t drown out other flavors with it.

  3. Use real Tunisian Harissa, not powder…there is no such thing as harissa powder, it’s either harissa or harissa infused.

  4. Mmm, the harissa dressing sounds so good! I have never tried it, but have been eyeing it for a few months. I may try to make my own, and then make this!

  5. Oh no, I can’t stand night classes. I mean, they have to be really interesting to keep me awake given I’m more of a morning person. But advanced nutrition sounds like it might cut it 🙂 good luck staying focused! I’m sure this awesome salad would lift my spirits too; such amazing flavors! And they say cauliflower is boring. Hope your presentation went well!

  6. This looks amazing!! I love dipping cauliflower florets in tahini dressing, and this salad takes that to a whole new level :D. I think I’ll make it tonight!

    BTW I hope that presentation went well! I’m sure you nailed it 🙂

  7. Harissa powder is a thing?? What!! I get the jars of harissa from time to time, but since they need to stay refrigerated, I don’t use them as much as I’d like. I need to find some harissa powder so it can be a staple in my kitchen 😉

  8. what a lovely looking salad – I love roasted cauliflower, hot or cold, and this looks like a good blend of ingredients – bet it was filling, too!

  9. Oh, night classes. That would bring back some memories for sure! This salad is just the kind of thing I’m in the mood for, and I’m all about the dressing these days, so am pinning and will be making this very soon. Thanks for another amazing recipe!