Exploring the vegetarian gumbo

Vegetarian gumbo

Vegetarian gumbo

I met a lady from Louisiana over Thanksgiving at my in-laws’ place. Of course, I asked her about gumbo, it being the only thing I know about Louisiana, other than that Louisianians are sometimes inclined to place their banjos on their knees. Well, I’m glad I asked. In her lovely Louisiana accent, she related the story of a dish amalgamated from three different cultures, that has become one of the touchpoints of Cajun people. One browns the flour in grease for hours and hours, constantly stirring, she told me in a faintly challenging tone of voice; of course this made me want to try making it right away.

(By the way — you know how a couple posts ago I threw out this thing about American food not needing a lot of slaving over the hot stove? I knew not whereof I spoke. Because, well, there’s gumbo.)

What is gumbo? People often call it a soup, but from what I can tell it is more of a stew, and eaten with rice. Sometimes seafood is cooked in it, other times meat — never both. But I’m not a huge fan of meat, and the hubby doesn’t much care for seafood. Lucky for us, there is a long tradition of vegetarian gumbos as well, either from the rustic cuisine of people who could not afford meat, or the six-week period of Lent when meat is to be abstained from.

The most interesting thing about gumbo is that each of the peoples that has lived around the Gulf has left their mark on it.

Filé

The Choctaw people have lived around there since the days of the mastodon, which they hunted. If that sounds rather prehistoric, well, it technically is — the mastodon became extinct 12,000 years ago. The Choctaw were intimately familiar with the native plant and animal life around their region; one of the things they contributed to the gumbo is their use of sassafras leaves. This plant (the root of which is the one that gives ‘root beer’ its name) is distantly related to other aromatics such as bay leaf and cinnamon. Sassafras leaves are ground up to make filé, which is used to flavor and thicken gumbo.

Roux

Ten thousand years of sheer Choctaw-ism and then the Europeans show up. What concerns us here, through all the sturm und drang of the European settlement, is the effect it had on gumbo: the small population of French Canadians that were exiled here brought with them some notions of French cooking. This includes roux — the cooking of flour in fat that many French sauces are based on. French cooking tends to use butter, but then the French roux seems to be mostly left pale; for gumbo the roux is cooked for hours till browned, and in that situation the butter would burn, so for gumbo, oils or lard are used instead.

Interesting tidbit — the word ‘Cajun‘ is a corruption of the word ‘Acadian’ — Acadia, Canada being the place that the French Canadians were exiled from.

The holy trinity

Cooking aromatics into the base of the stew is another common European method. The French call it mirepoix and the Spanish call it sofrito. The standard set used in gumbo is called the holy trinity and is made up of equal amounts of onion, celery and green bell pepper (capsicum). This particular set clearly shows the Spanish influence on the region.

Okra and rice

Another set of cultural influences arrived with the Africans brought over through the slave trade. Now once again, many tears and blood have been spilled over this, but what concerns us for gumbo is that the Africans brought over a couple of my old friends to America — my slimy old pal the okra (bhindi) that I have loved since childhood, and rice. West African stews often cook down okra into it with onions and meat: the okra gives off its glutinous slime (I say that with love) to make the whole stew have integrity. Hello, okra. And rice has become the traditional accompaniment to gumbo; there are other rice-based dishes in Cajun cuisine as well (like jambalaya).

Three types of vegetarian gumbo

Now a lot of veteran gumbo-eaters will probably click away as soon as they hear the word ‘vegetarian’ spoken before gumbo. But for the rest of you, here are three that I made. Since this was my first time making gumbo, I tried to keep it very simple, and not add too many flavorings; at the risk of sacrificing flavor, perhaps, but all the better to learn the basic palate of these few key ingredients. I also used whole wheat instead of white flour, because I am a bit of a fanatic. The only difference it made is that I believe the final result was a bit grittier than it would be with white flour.

The Gumbo base

The amounts specified here can form up to four separate gumbo meals for two.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup fat (oil or ghee or lard — I used lard)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 1 medium green bell pepper (capsicum)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method:

Heat the fat in a thick-bottomed pot and when it melts, put in the flour. Stir to combine into a paste. There, the roux is underway. Now the idea is that it has to go from a blond color to a dark chocolate brown. For me, this took about two hours, because I had the heat on medium to medium-low, which made it so that I could stir it every minute or so. If you are willing to stir it every ten seconds or so, you can have the heat higher and it will be done faster.

So in about two hours I went from this to this. Remember I started with whole wheat flour so it was already brownish from the beginning.

IMG_1034 IMG_1039

Now chop up the vegetables into little dice and put it into the pot along with the salt. Even if the roux had been calmly cooking away, you will notice that upon entry the vegetables will immediately sizzle, showing how hot the fat really is. In about 20 minutes of cooking, the vegetables soften down and the gumbo base is done.

IMG_1035 IMG_1037 IMG_1040 IMG_1041

I divided the gumbo base into 4 quarters to store. Each quarter can be used to make an entire gumbo meal for two people. Each quarter will take about 2-3 cups of additional liquid (water, stock, milk); so using that hint you can make any gumbo dish. The resulting meal, once the base is done, is very quick and can be easily put together on a weeknight.

1. Greens-okra Gumbo

Greens and okra gumbo

Greens and okra gumbo

In this gumbo, okra is cooked into the stew and greens are added later. I love the earthiness that okra adds here. Instead of pureeing the greens as is often done, I left them in ribbons, and enjoyed that textural variation. A little vinegar is added at the end for some brightness.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 quarters of the gumbo base from above
  • 1/2 pound okra, destemmed and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • half a bunch mix of greens, sliced into ribbons (mustard, kale, spinach, chard, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar

Method:

Heat the gumbo base in a pot. Once it is hot, add about 5 cups of hot water, little at a time, after each time stirring the roux into a paste. This is the classic French method of making béchamel sauce, except that the liquid in that case is milk. Once all the water has been incorporated — this will take a few minutes — bring to a low boil. Add the okra, the paprika, bay leaf and salt. Boil for half hour to one hour on a low boil. Now add the greens. They only need to cook for ten minutes or so. Add the vinegar, taste for salt, and you are done.

IMG_1042 IMG_1044 IMG_1045

2. Cabbage Gumbo

Cabbage is found as an ingredient in some older recipes from the region and has lately gone out of style…why? Because — cabbage! Come on! Well I’m pretty déclassé myself so this recipe definitely attracts me. Milk is used as the liquid this time. Also this time I used filé powder at the time of serving; it thickens and adds a herbal something.

Ingredients:

  • Quarter of the gumbo base recipe from above
  • 1/3 head of cabbage, shredded
  • 1 serrano or jalapeno chili
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon filé powder

Method:

Heat the gumbo base in a pot along with the serrano chili, sliced. Put in the milk in the style of béchamel sauce, stirring to combine into a paste each time, making sure that there are no lumps. Once all the milk has been added, bring to a low boil. Add the cabbage and salt. Let it cook until the cabbage is softened, about 20 minutes. Serve with rice and some filé powder, which is to be stirred in.

Cabbage gumbo

Cabbage gumbo

3. Tomato-okra Gumbo

Most of you won’t care one whit but I guess I am dipping my toe into controversy. Some people don’t consider that tomatoes belong in a gumbo at all, but then I find tons of tomato gumbo recipes on the interwebs. So here it is, for what it is worth. Authentic or not, it was delicious.

Ingredients:

  • Quarter portion of gumbo base from above
  • 1/4 cup dry red kidney beans
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic (I used several sticks of wild garlic)
  • About a dozen pods okra, sliced
  • 1 pasilla pepper, sliced
  • 1 cup thick tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Method:

Soak the red kidney beans overnight, or, in very hot water for an hour. Then put them in a pot with about a cup of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for half hour or so till softened.

IMG_1194

Put the gumbo base in a pot on medium heat. Once it is hot, sweat the three vegetables in it, one by one: first the garlic for a few minutes, then the pasilla peppers, and then the okra. Now in goes the tomato purée along with a cup and a half of extra water. If you had any water left over from cooking the beans, now is the time to add it. Add the salt. Bring to a boil, leave at a simmer for at least half hour, or as long as you want, until the vegetables are as softened as you like. In the last ten minutes of cooking, put in the kidney beans to meld its flavors together.

IMG_1193 IMG_1196

So what did my adventure with vegetarian gumbo teach me? It can be done with excellent results. My husband enjoyed all three gumbo meals; he never once asked ‘where’s the meat?’ But he is so spoiled with Indian food that he did ask — ‘where’s the masala?’ I guess that is a compliment?

Tomato Gumbo

Tomato Gumbo

I referred to several webby recipes for Gumbo. Here are some of them.

http://www.nola.com/food/index.ssf/2010/05/cabbage_gumbo.html

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/vegetarian-gumbo-recipe.html

http://www.gumbocooking.com/veggie-gumbo.html

Late breaking news:

Of course, the lard makes it not be vegetarian! Please use ghee for a ‘pure’ vegetarian experience. Or a good oil with a high smoke point. I used lard because I had some in the freezer, but then I’m not big on purity (of any sort!) I just like the taste of vegetables and am not keen on the taste of meat.

Advertisements

My Parathas turned Purple

IMG_0940

I have a huge amount of respect for nutrition scientists. But one can sense that in food, they have met a worthy adversary.

Carbohydrate, fat and protein

WHO Food pyramid

WHO Food pyramid

There were the days when they confidently issued proclamations about ‘food pyramids’ that could be rendered in the colors available in a child’s crayon pack. There was carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Various experiments were performed on unsuspecting dogs and rats that led them to believe that out of the three, protein was the one true nutrient.

Then came sailors and prisoners who were given protein enough, but were afflicted with swollen gums, purple spots, and finally, death. This disease was called scurvy. This disease had been known since the Roman times, and had often been treated with herbal cures such as lemon juice. Another time, a sailor stepped ashore and ate some cactus fruit, and found that it had curative properties too.

The vitamins

So what was it about lemon juice and cactus fruit that had the magical property to cure scurvy? Surely, they thought, since scurvy was a disease of ‘putridness’, whatever that means, and clearly, acid cuts ‘putridness’, it has got to be the acid in lemon juice that does the trick. So they began dosing sailors with diluted sulfuric acid and vinegar, to no avail. This acid treatment went on pointlessly for years, apparently, until a doctor named James Lind had a forehead-smacking moment and realized the sulfuric acid was doing more harm than good.

James Lind feeding citrus fruit to a scurvy-stricken sailor aboard HMS Salisbury in 1747 (Artist: Robert A Thom)

It was through such nightmarish means that scientists were forced to accept that the complexity of nutrition went beyond the big three of fat, carbohydrate and protein, and the ph dimension of alkaline and acid. By the early twentieth they had identified nutrients that were given the name ‘vitamins‘ which meant ‘force of life’, or something. Vitamin C cured scurvy while Vitamin B cured beri beri and pellagra; others were discovered too.

So food science climbed up the ladder of complexity, but you can tell how many nutrients they expected to find in food, because they started naming them after the alphabet. There may be ten, there may be twenty, surely it would not go beyond A through Z, right? They found 13 vitamins.

Phytonutrients

The farther one goes, the farther behind one gets. Now they have identified so many nutrients that this layperson (me) has lost all hope of catching up.

Phytonutrients‘ is the name used to describe all kinds of nutrients available only through plants. They help plants perform all their planty duties: fight germs, fight aging, fight toxins, stay alive, in other words. They give the plants their colors; their smells; their pungency. When we eat plants, we get the benefit of these chemicals too, for surprisingly similar functions.

Now there is a type of phytonutrient that is a pigment that gives plants a purple color (anthocyanins). There is tons of tantalizing research about how beneficial these pigments are for us. There is evidence from folk medicine — hibiscus has been used for liver dysfunction, while bilberry has been used to cure night-blindness. There is evidence from the test-tube that the purple pigment prevents the growth of cancer cells. There is evidence from tests on rats that the purple aids in cardiovascular health.

The pigments have antioxidant properties, so that is one reason why they might have so many benefits. But scientists are now alive to the dangers of accepting the simple explanation. These pigments belong to a set of 4000 other compounds called flavonoids; plants use all of them in concert to perform various functions through their lives. So it is not just this or that chemical that provides this or that benefit; it might be any of the 4000 thousand put together that does it. So it isn’t the purpleness itself; it is the army of its cousins working together in the plant.

That makes sense — plants do not live on vitamin supplements. They use whatever they’ve got in whatever combination they can, to do the things they need done. If we eat those plants, we ingest those chemical complexes and gain similar benefits.

We have come a long way from the time scientists dosed sailors with vinegar. Now one can imagine them shaking their fist and saying, ‘Just — just go eat purple food.’

Well, that’s easy.

My purple parathas

I love stuffing cauliflower or potato into rotis to make parathas. Eating them with plain yogurt is soul-satisfying. But on this day, I made them purple.

Ingredients for the roti:

  • Have a look at this recipe (Rolling the Roti) and make as much as you need. I made 2 potato parathas and 8 cauliflower ones = 10 rotis total.
  • Oil or ghee as needed.

Ingredients for potato filling (for 2 parathas):

  • 1 medium purple potato
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro
  • 1 small green chili sliced, or substitute with half a teaspoon red chili
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for cauliflower filling (for 8 parathas):

  • About 4 cups purple cauliflower florets
  • An inch of ginger, minced fine
  • 1 – 2 green serrano chilies
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons chaat masala
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Half a teaspoon cumin seeds (optional)
  • Sprinkle of asafetida (optional)

Method for potato filling:

Microwave the potato until it is soft. Mash it, peel and all. Mix in the other ingredients, squeeze it into a sort of dough, and divide into two disks. The filling is ready, each disk will go into one paratha.

IMG_0932 IMG_0933

Method for cauliflower filling:

Grate the cauliflower, mince the ginger and chili. Heat the oil in a large thick-bottomed pan on medium heat. When it shimmers put in the asafetida and the cumin. When they sizzle put in the ginger, chili, and grated cauliflower. Stir to coat with oil. Add the salt and the chaat masala. Raise to heat to nicely dry the cauliflower. It is very important to get the cauliflower to be as dry as possible, or it will make your life hell while rolling out the parathas. When it is dry enough, turn off the heat and let it dry.

IMG_1022 IMG_1023 IMG_1024 IMG_1025 IMG_1026 IMG_1027

Method for composing the parathas:

Roll out a roti about 6 inches in diameter. Place the right amount of filling in the center. For the cauliflower it is about 3 heaped tablespoons, for the potato filling it is about a 2 – 3 inch disk of potato. Gather up the edges of the roti and give it a squeeze. Flatten the pouch into a disk and start rolling it flat with the filling inside.

IMG_0934 IMG_1028 IMG_0935 IMG_0937

While rolling parathas the ever-present danger is that the filling will come squeezing out like toothpaste out of a tube. One must learn to avoid that. One way is to use a very gentle hand while rolling — you don’t want a few long, weighty rollings, instead many quick, darting, gentle rollings. Use dry flour as needed to patch up holes.

The ideal paratha, when rolled out, has such a thin roti cover that one can see the filling peeping out in various places, but it doesn’t actually fall out. Keep your eye on that ideal.

Meanwhile have a cast-iron griddle or tawa going on a medium-high flame. Slap a prepared paratha on. After 30 seconds, the top surface will seem a little set. Flip it over. Wait 30 seconds. Now spread a bit of oil or ghee over the top surface and flip it over for another 30 seconds. Repeat. In total, each side has been cooked dry twice, then cooked with oil twice.

IMG_0938 IMG_0939

While one paratha is cooking, did you think it was time to stand around and have a coffee break? No, my dear, get busy rolling out the next one. When one gets practiced one can have two griddles going at once.

IMG_1031

Have it with some plain yogurt on the side, nothing else is needed.

King Julienne

King Julien

King Julien

King Julien is a strange character in the Madagascar series of movies. The talented Sacha Baron Cohen does his voice, and gives him an Indian accent, even though he is a native of the Madagascar island. He is a fun-loving narcissist, a ring-tailed lemur who counts bush babies among his subjects.

Odd? Yes, he is very funny, and very odd, which makes him a good mascot for the odd pantry.

This recipe, which basically consists of a number of julienned vegetables (particularly cabbage) is in honor of King Julien. I guess since it features cabbage you could call it a coleslaw which derives from Dutch koolsla and basically means cabbage salad. The dressing here is not mayonnaise-based, which gives it a lot more sharpness than the usual coleslaw.

Oddly sharp coleslaw

Ingredients

  • A scant 4 cups of shredded purple cabbage
  • A scant 4 cups of shredded arugula, loosely packed
  • Half a cup of green beans, microwaved or blanched, and julliened
  • Half a cup of firm apple, julliened
  • 1 tablespoon pinenuts
  • 1 tablespoon julliened ginger (Optional. This makes it really sharp, and if you are into that, you will love it)
  • Salt to taste
  • Half a teaspoon crumbled oregano
  • 3 – 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Method:

IMG_0692 IMG_0695 IMG_0700 IMG_0698 IMG_0697 IMG_0693

Collect all the vegetable ingredients, nicely julliened. Toss them around in a large salad bowl. Add pinenuts, salt and oregano and toss some more. Now add olive oil and the vinegar and toss yet again.

You can eat it right away but the flavor does develop a little more if you wait fifteen minutes or so.

And you know here is a new idea…try eating it with chopsticks. Failing that, use your fingers.

Oddly sharp coleslaw

Oddly sharp coleslaw

The Tahoe gratin

Tahoe Gratin

Tahoe Gratin

We spent labor day in a rented cabin in the Tahoe region. We had a state of the art kitchen at our disposal, a warm cozy evening for dining in, a few vegetables in the fridge, but no spices whatsoever. What’s an Indian cook to do?

Gratin!

I love gratins — the creamy cheesy crusty casseroles. I was first introduced to gratins in an strange fashion — a pure vegetarian Gujarati restaurant in Bombay had a ‘Vegetable Au Gratin’ on the menu and it was delicious. Restaurants in India have this strange quirk where the advertised cuisine hardly matters — a South Indian dosa restaurant will have an entire Indian Chinese menu, and throw in a club sandwich as well. They don’t seem to believe in specialization of cuisine.

Sort of like the proprietor here at The Odd Pantry you say? Hmm.

At any rate, this is a pure vegetarian gratin, and it is built in layers of potato, cauliflower and corn…all vegetables with distinct flavors that nevertheless that have a certain savoriness that unites them.

The Tahoe gratin

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red potato or 2 medium
  • Half a head of cauliflower
  • Half a pound bag of frozen corn kernels
  • One and half cup milk
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (same amount as butter)
  • salt to taste
  • A 2″ by 2″ by 2″ block of good sharp cheddar cheese

Method:

In this dish I precook all the vegetables to minimize and equalize the gratin baking time. The other principle I follow is to salt each layer on its own.

First, the potatoes. Slice the potato as thin as you can get them (eighth of an inch). Put them in a pyrex container, add salt enough for the potatoes, and submerge them in half a cup milk. Microwave for 2 – 3 minutes and then set aside.

IMG_0578 IMG_0579

Next the cauliflower. Slice the florets into quarter inch thick slices, put them in a bowl, add some salt, and once again, microwave for 2 – 3 minutes and set aside.

IMG_0580

Next the corn. Same routine — put in a bowl, add salt enough for the corn, and microwave. With the frozen corn all we are trying to do is thaw them.

Vegetables are ready. Let’s make the bechamel sauce. Heat the butter in a small pot. When it melts, add the flour and stir, stir, stir on gentle heat. It will foam and bubble and perhaps turn a shade darker. Now put in the milk. Stir with your wooden spoon for dear life as you slowly pour the milk in. You may need to resort to a whisk, the idea is we are trying to not have any lumps. Keep the heat gentle. You can also pour in any extra milk from the potato cooking bowl. Once all the milk has gone in, and the mixture is smooth, you can up the heat and bring to a boil. Add salt enough for this sauce.

IMG_0581 IMG_0582 IMG_0584

Once it comes to a boil, turn it off after a minute. We are ready to compose the layers. In a flat baking dish, first layer in the potato slices, trying to keep even thickness. Next put on the cauliflower florets in a layer. Next the corn. Now pour the bechamel sauce all over the vegetables, pushing and prying with a spatula to get it everywhere.

IMG_0583

Cut the cheese up into tiny cubes. Cover the top of the casserole with cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 425 F. In the last 10 minutes, take the foil off to get it to brown. If you want more of a brown crust, stick it under the broiler for 5 extra minutes.

IMG_0585 IMG_0587

 

Here are some other ideas for other vegetables to add to the mix: peas, leeks, roasted zucchini.

 

In which the Manchurian Cauliflower gets brainwashed by the Californians

Gobi Manchurian with fried rice

Gobi Manchurian with fried rice

There is a famous dish in India called Cauliflower Manchurian, which no actual Manchurian person would probably recognize. For that matter, those actual Manchurian people, from the mythical land of Manchuria? They probably wouldn’t call themselves Manchurian either. This is an ancient term that I believe came from the tribe of Manchu, but then became a generic term for a region around the north east of China, and a part of Mongolia. As far as I could determine, it is now used to refer to only two things: The film/novel ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, and this dish — Gobi/Cauliflower Manchurian.

A long time ago a Chinese community that had settled in eastern India created this dish, with Chinese ingredients but an Indian sensibility. They were either from the ethnic Manchu tribe, or perhaps they picked a word that suggested something vague, like ‘from yonder eastern lands’?

In any case, this is one of the most famous Indian Chinese dishes, served in restaurants, and also recreated in many homes, including mine as I was growing up. I recently remembered this dish and made it at home to go with fried rice. As is my wont, I modified it; it is already a hodge-podge between Indian and Chinese, and I added Californian to the mix — what that means, is that instead of deep-frying the cauliflower, I microwaved and roasted it, in order to make it somewhat healthier. This made enough for dinner for two, with no leftovers.

It got high marks from my foremost customer and critic, my husband. So here goes:

Californian Cauliflower Manchurian

Ingredients:

  • Half a cauliflower, cut into half inch wide florets
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • half an inch piece of ginger
  • 1 serrano green chili
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • half a cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon chili sauce, like Lee Kum Kee or Sriracha
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Ketchup or Worcestershire sauce
  • salt to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil

Method:

Cheddar cauliflower

Cheddar cauliflower

Rinse the cauliflower florets. Set them in a plate and microwave on high for 3 minutes. This will get them cooked on the inside and avoid the need to deep-fry. Next, for surface browning, rub salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil over them, and pop into a 425 F oven for 20 minutes, turning once in the middle. In retrospect I should have broiled it for the last 5 minutes to get it even browner.

Minced ginger, garlic, chili

Minced ginger, garlic, chili

Meanwhile prepare the sauce. Mince garlic, ginger and chili and keep aside.

Liquid ingredients for manchurian

Liquid ingredients for manchurian

In a bowl, mix the chicken broth, soy sauce, chili sauce, cornstarch and ketchup or Worcestershire sauce.

Heat two tablespoons oil in a wide pan. When it shimmers, put in the garlic, ginger and chili, to saute them gently. By this point the cauliflower should be ready and browned, put it into the pan and stir the seasonings with it. Doesn’t hurt to adjust the cauliflower for salt at this point, even though the salty soy sauce is yet to come, one wants the cauliflower to not be bland in itself.

Cauliflower sauteing

Cauliflower sauteing

Now it is time for the liquid mixture to be poured in. Stir, stir, stir to coat the florets. As it comes to a boil, the cornstarch will congeal and make the mixture shiny. You want it to go all over the cauliflower.

IMG_0521[1] IMG_0522[1]

Your dish is ready, but you need garnish. This is what I used for garnish: sliced chili in some white vinegar, heated for 20 seconds in the microwave.

Chili vinegar

Chili vinegar

We had it for dinner with this lovely fried rice with purple cabbage, the recipe for which will have to come some other time.

Fried rice with purple cabbage

Fried rice with purple cabbage

Cauliflou, cauliflower, cauliflowest

I adore cauliflower. I know, that is not a statement one is likely to hear often. But I do. That strong sulphuric smell when I steam and then roast cauliflower is enough to send me into a tizzy. I grew up on rice steamed with cauliflower for lunch every week day, and I tell you, you haven’t smelled white rice cooking until you’ve smelled it cooking with cauliflower.

All right, all you unsympathetic ears. I made this dish for a housemate once, and he said he had never, before then, actually enjoyed cauliflower. Plus there are the incredible cancer-fighting, DNA-repairing traits of cauliflower that it shares with its cruciferous brethren like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and so on.  So here is a simple way that can be included in any Indian meal, with chapatis or naan, with rice and dal; or with any Western meal that has strong flavors as the vegetable side. Or — what the heck — put it in a burrito.

Presenting Gobi Masala done in a Sindhi way.

Ingredients:

Half a head of cauliflower, rinsed and chopped into thin florets, none wider than half an inch

Half a teaspoon whole cumin seed

Few sprinkles of asafetida

Half a teaspoon red chili powder

Half a teaspoon turmeric powder

One teaspoon coriander powder

One inch piece of ginger minced

One-two serrano chilies, sliced

One medium tomato, choopped

Salt to taste

Chopped cilantro to garnish

Method:

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a thick-bottomed pan on medium-high. When it shimmers, put in the asafetida, the cumin seeds, and the red chili powder.

cauliflower 002

Gobi masala : spices

They will sizzle presently. In go the ginger and serrano chili. They will start to look blistered.

cauliflower 003

Gobi masala: ginger and chili looking sizzling

Now it is time for the cauliflower to go in. Stir to coat with the oil. Sprinkle with salt. Stir occasionally, while leaving the pan uncovered, on medium-high.

cauliflower 005

Gobi masala: cauliflower coated with oil and spices

Fifteen minutes later, some of the florets will show some translucence on the stems, and some browning on the buds.

cauliflower 006

Gobi masala: some browning on florets

Now, put in the coriander, turmeric, and tomatoes, some extra salt to taste, and stir to coat the florets once again.

cauliflower 007

Gobi masala: tomatoes added

Cover, lower the temperature to medium, and let it cook for another ten minutes. At the end, garnish with cilantro.

cauliflower 014

Gobi masala: complete with garnish