I appreciate a well-done cauliflower dish a lot. This dish is my way of making a rustic charred cauliflower that is tender yet holds its shape. Perfect with big squeezes of a lemon, cauliflower simply stir fried in a wok is a feast on its own.
Cauliflower, a vegetable so versatile and abundant in most places in the world, came to India in 1822. Dr. Jemson of England, in-charge of Company Bagh, Saharanpur, U.P. introduced this crop in India. Over some years of testing and cultivation, local strains were of cauliflower were generated in India, better suited to the Indian climate matured earlier in November to December as compared to the imported seeds. By 1929, India had its own variety of cauliflower, the kind I grew up eating.
This version of cauliflower is inspired from my mother's fiery kobi bhaja, where she keeps the florets chunky and artfully stirs them in a hot wok with optimum oil. The florets are tossed and seared in a wok until tender, oozing of all the spices and some get a rustic char adding a wonderful crunch. I think I loved this variation of cauliflower the most, although I like it in everything—roasts, stir fries, stews, gravies, pulao and whatnot! Tastiest and freshest in the winter, cauliflower can be also be baked as a whole with some spices and a creamy sauce. So many things to try!
I like to add mustard seeds while tempering this dish, and that's something I caught on from a lovely cauliflower preparation I ate at a family friends' luncheon in Toronto. Prabha Sati, a very dear friend and talented cook, along with her sister-in-law, had assembled many dishes on the table. Amidst the delicious rajma chawal, I have not forgotten the mustard tempered cauliflowers—subtle in spices, a beautiful hue of yellow and mighty nuggets topped with cilantro.
This is also a dish that I prefer making when I don't want to invest a lot of time in the kitchen yet want to eat something tasty. So, there's no chopping of onions or tomatoes. To add the much needed acidity, I use amchur (dry mango) and lemon. Kasoori Methi adds a beautiful aroma in the end, and the dish gets finished in no time.
It goes well as a side with some rice and legumes or even with some buttered bread. Take your green salad a notch up by adding these mustard tempered cauli florets, dig a fork into them and enjoy as a snack or meal! I also like to serve it as a starter at times—the florets are perfect as finger food too!
I picked this tip early from my mother that one should not chop the cauliflower florets too small, unless you're making something where the florets don't need to stand out. For example, cauli-rice or cauliflower stuffed flatbread or as a filler with couscous or quinoa. Keeping the florets big not only makes the dish look nice but also helps the spices coat it well, not to forget the time saved in chopping!
2 cups of cauliflower florets (1 small cauliflower should suffice)
2 and 1/2 tbsp mustard oil (or any other oil of your choice)
1 and 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 green chili chopped
1/2-inch ginger minced
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
1 tsp salt, or to taste
juice of 1/2 -lemon
1 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) - optional
extra lemon wedges and slit green chilies to serve
fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Boil water and add to a large vessel. Sprinkle some salt and turmeric in the hot water and then add the cauliflower florets. Keep them soaked for 10 minutes and then wash under running water ensuring the florets are clean. Keep aside.
In a bowl, add turmeric, red chili, coriander and cumin powders, and add about 2 tbsp water to make a paste. Keep aside.
Heat a wok or kadhai or a big pan and add 2 tbsp oil. If you're using mustard oil, let it smoke. Once the oil is hot, add mustard and cumin seeds. Reduce the heat slightly and add green chilies and ginger. Sauté for a couple of seconds and add the spice paste. Keep stirring for about 30 seconds, and then add asafoetida. Stir and then add the cauliflower florets.
Increase the heat and stir continuously for 4-5 minutes, stopping in between for a few seconds. Ensure that the spices don't stick to the bottom - if they do, scrap and toss. Splash some water, cover the wok and cook on medium heat for 3-4 minutes.
Open and now add amchur and salt. Increase the heat and keep stirring again, stopping for a few seconds in between. Splash water and cover and cook for another 4 minutes.
Open and repeat the process of tossing and covering and cooking until the cauliflower florets are slightly roasted, tender and cooked but not mushy. Ensure the florets hold their shape.
Take the wok off the heat. Rub the kasoori methi between your palm and sprinkle over the cauliflower. Squeeze half of the lemon, sprinkle the cilantro and green chilies and serve hot with more lime wedges.