So, farewell then 2011, hello and welcome 2012, and a happy new year to all my readers. Many of you, I’m sure, will be feeling somewhat meated out – as is traditional at this time of year. Some of you may even have made resolutions to eat less meat this month, this year, or for ever more. Or even none at all. For you then, and following on from the meat free comfort food theme of my last post of last year, I thought it was time to write up one of my favourite veggie meals – the cauliflower curry, a picture of which I’d used to illustrate my post written back in September in response to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s book/TV/Guardian column exhortations to eat Veg Every Day. I won’t re-cover that ground other than to endorse again his broad principle while retaining the reservations I expressed at the time. I will add one thing: I thought then, and still do, that “Veg Every Day” is a duff title. Surely most of us – even the most carnivorous of most us – would generally manage to consume some vegetable item every day anyway, even without giving it much thought. Anyone who generally didn’t, would be considered something of a freaky eater, surely?
Anyway, cauliflower. I love cauliflower, but because the default setting for me, as I suspect for most of us, when it comes to cauliflower remains cauliflower cheese – for me, not only one of the most comforting of all comfort foods, but the most evocative of specifically maternal comfort - I seldom pick one up. I should more often, and not only to appease Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (I have to admit, much as I love it, if I ate cauliflower every day I think its appeal would soon wane), but because to smother a cauliflower in cheese sauce is far from the most interesting thing you can do with it. Although it does remain almost certainly the most comforting – as long as you’re not allergic to dairy products, of course.
The cauliflower has a particular affinity for Middle Eastern and South Asian spices, and also, peculiarly, for being dyed bright yellow – as in piccalilli. My cauliflower curry recipe fully exploits both affinities, although if you don’t like the flavour of turmeric, or simply don’t have any in your spice cupboard right now, you can serve it up au naturel. I do think, however, that as pretty as raw cauliflower is, once cooked it can look kind of anaemic without any colour enhancement at all*.
Garlic, finely sliced
Red chilli, finely sliced
Ginger, finely chopped
Cauliflower head, broken into large florets
Leek (or fennel) - Optional
Leek (or fennel) - Optional
Start your curry by making up your own spice mix. You can call it that, or by all means call it home made garam masala – which is, I believe essentially the same phrase in Hindi. Precisely what goes into a garam masala is entirely up to you and the contents of your spice cupboard, as it is a generic term with no single definitive recipe. Or rather, more likely, as many single definitive recipes as there are grandmothers in the Indian sub-continent. Which is a lot. In my case, on this occasion, it contained black peppercorns, coriander, fennel, nigella and mustard seeds, toasted in the pan and pounded into a powder with the pestle and mortar along with a little hot paprika and cinnamon bark. It really should, of course, contain cumin, if nothing else, but if, as I did on this occasion, you suddenly realize afterwards that you forgot to add any, don’t panic, just add whole cumin seeds when you come to cook your curry anyway, that’s good too. In fact, even if you hadn’t forgotten to include cumin in your garam, you might like to throw in a sprinkling of whole seeds anyway for aesthetic and textural interest, maybe some fennel seeds too.
If you’re a perfectionist you will probably want to follow the standard advice when it comes to toasting the seeds for your spice mix, and do each component spice separately in the pan, one at a time on account of them taking different times to toast. I am not a perfectionist and add them all to the pan together, but staggered in order of size, largest first, leaving a few seconds of toasting time for each before adding the next smallest item – quite how many seconds depending on the discrepancy in size. This method, obviously, relies on guesswork but it seems to work.
Once you have your spices toasted and powdered, you’re ready to make your curry. Heat the pan (toasting the forgotten cumin seeds in it as it heats, if you need to) then add a little oil, some chopped garlic, ginger and sliced red chillies. Allow those flavours to infuse the oil for a few seconds before adding thickly sliced red onion (on this occasion in fact I had half a red onion and half a leek in the fridge, so I used onion and leek, as you might have noticed from the pictures, but just onion is fine, or you might also add fennel to the mix if you had some of that lying around) and a teaspoonful each of your own spice mix and turmeric. Stir thoroughly to coat the onion in the spices and cook for a few minutes till starting to soften, then add the cauliflower. Again, cook for a few minutes before adding mushrooms, and just a minute or so more before adding a cup of stock (I used Marigold instant on this occasion, but obviously if you have any homemade chicken, pheasant or other light stock to hand use that). Cover the pan and allow to simmer away, for just 10 – 15 minutes – handily, just about as long as it takes you to cook your rice.
A variation on this recipe, and the one featured in the pictures below, another picture of which that I used to illustrate the HFW post, would be the addition of potatoes. The method used there would be to cook up some new potatoes in your stock till almost done, and then add them, along with the stock at the same point you add just the stock in the recipe above. In both variations, finishing the dish with a handful of coriander leaves and stalks, roughly torn from the bunch is good, as long as you like coriander. Which I know not everyone does.
* I feel the need to point out here that this endorsement of colouring cauliflower does NOT, in any way, extend to that other frequently dyed bright yellow commodity, smoked haddock. I love smoked haddock. I despise chrome yellow smoked haddock. It is an abomination.