This gem comes from one of my favorite Indian cookbooks, Yamuna Devi’s The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. This book is a great intro to dals, breads, chutneys, vegetables, and desserts concentrated around South Indian cooking. The dish hits you with a little spice and also has a hint of sweet from the garam masala. The tomatoes are quite savory and add some acid and juice to the mix.
This Sunday we co-produced a dinner party with my friend Dan. Generally when I have a dinner party the guests are mostly familiar and the cuisine is something new I’ve been dying to try. This time we changed it up. Dan brought the excellent company (and the booze), and we cooked. This was a surprising and enjoyable change. In addition to cauliflower we cooked my mother’s Filipino Chicken adobo, an Italian caponata, cucumber raita, brown rice, and also the Kerala fish curry I have been enjoying for some time.
The concept of fusion wasn’t around when I grew up. However we partook in our own way, cooking American vegetables with Indian spices. Even more common on the table were meals including dishes originating in different countries but harmonious in season and flavor. I have rarely practiced cuisine-themed meals. I fully understand that for logistical, economical, and convenience reasons cooking within a specific cuisine makes a lot of sense. Saving money is no joke, and many times I find myself trying tactics like cooking a single cuisine for a whole week to cut down on waste. In an Indian recipe, for instance, you generally need cumin, ghee, mustard seed, chilies, and cilantro. When making Italian, it’s extra virgin olive oil, basil, thyme, etc. I won’t torture you with further generalizations, you get the point.
A cuisine incorporates a series of recipes that share with one another a specific time, culture, or region of the world. These recipes are usually similar in cooking technique and with a shared foundation of flavorings, such as spices and herbs. As an urban dweller and someone of mixed background, I have a wealth of cuisines within arms reach every day. I generally don’t eat the same type of food two days in a row. When it comes to a dinner party, however, using a theme can come in handy. It’s easy to relate to guests when they ask how to plan for drinks or dessert and also sets the “style” of the evening. But while it’s fun to take a trip to India on a Saturday night, I also enjoy imagining what would happen if a group of people from different backgrounds came together and developed a wholesome meal. With this meal I had brought my family along for the ride to cook for this new group of friends.
When I’m imagining recipes, I consider taste, texture, color, and time (for planning the cooking). In this meal I used a lot of garlic. Three whole heads to be exact. For textures: soupy gritty curry, soft falling apart chicken, firm cauliflower, and crunchy raita. For heat: fill your mouth Indian heat of the curry, peppery taste of the chicken, slight spice to the cauliflower, and the raita’s creamy yogurt to take all the spice away. For flavors: spicy curry, mostly sweet chicken, savory and acidic cauliflower, and creamy sweet raita.
Give yourself a little freedom. Try it out. Incorporate this dish in your next dinner party. It’s super easy to reheat or keep warm in the oven. Just don’t leave it there too long, like I did, and ruin the chances for a “finished” photo.
3-4 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, scraped and cut into thin julienne
2 green chilies, cored, seeded and slivered
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large cauliflower, trimmed, cored and cut into florets (2 x 1 x 1/2 inches)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon salt
3 medium-sized tomatoes, each peeled and diced
1 teaspoon garam masala
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh coriander or minced parsley
Heat the ghee in a medium heavy-bottomed saute pan over moderate heat. When it’s hot but not smoking, drop in the ginger, chilies, mustard and cumin seeds. Fry until the mustard seeds pop and turn gray and the cumin seeds turn brown. Stir in the cauliflower, ground coriander, tumeric, and salt. Brown the florets, then stir in the tomatoes. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the vegetables from sticking, or until the cauliflower stalks are just tender. Uncover and cook until the liquid is evaporated. Just before serving, sprinkle the garam masala and fresh coriander.
Optional: Cut a vidalia onion in 1/2 inch dice and saute in the ghee for 8 minutes until translucent before adding in the chilies.