Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.
~Mark Twain

Another inexplicable food bias. Why does cauliflower so often cop attitudes ranging somewhere between ambivalence and disdain?

Cauliflower can rarely find a date for prom which, as always, is a waste of fine material. This somewhat nutty flavored cruciferous vegetable is whitish as it lacks green chlorophyll in the head (“curd”) because the leaves shield the florets from sunlight. The orange and purple varieties are particularly fetching. Cauliflower possesses a high nutritional density with a profile low in fat, high in dietary fiber, folate, water and vitamin C. Ironically, when coupled with turmeric (see below), cauliflower has been found to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. So, please take her to the dance whether raw, roasted or sautéed.

Gobi Masala is a scrumptious Andhra cauliflower dish. Andhra Pradesh is a state located on the southeastern coast of India, baring the second longest coastline on this subcontinent—often monsoon ridden and occasionally battered. Two major rivers, the Godavari and the Krishna, course across this climatically and historically diverse region. The state is often called “India’s rice bowl” as over three quarters of the crops are rice, and it also happens to be a brisk producer of chile peppers.

The cuisine in Andhra kitchens is varied and regionally dependent, but naturally includes rice, peppers and a wide array of curries and spices.

As with all provincial cooking, versions of gobi masala abound. Some cooks suggest parboiling, even frying, the cauliflower first…some incorporate more indigenous Indian spices and curry leaves…some add a wondrous paste of poppy seeds and cashews…and so on and so forth.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER CURRY

1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered

2 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C sherry wine vinegar
1 T curry powder
1/2 t garam masala
1/2 t turmeric
1 t red chile powder
2 t sea salt

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Stir coriander seeds and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Place ground seeds in medium bowl and whisk in olive oil, wine vinegar, curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, chile powder, and salt.

Pull apart onion quarters into separate layers and add to cauliflower in a large glass bowl. Pour spice mixture over florets and onions and toss well to coat. Spread cauliflower and onions in a single layer in a large baking dish or heavy roasting pan.

Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally, until just fork tender, about 25 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

GOBI MASALA

1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and finely chopped

2 t coriander seeds
2 t mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
2 t turmeric
1/2 t garam masala
1 t red chile powder
Liberal pinch of sea salt

1/2 C plain yogurt
2 t cashews, ground

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Stir coriander, mustard and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Add turmeric, garam masala and red chile powder. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy, deep skillet and add the chopped onions, garlic and serrano peppers and sauté until onions are light brown.

Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the spice mix and salt and cook until the onion-tomato-garlic-pepper mix fully absorbs the flavors.

Add the yogurt and cashews and gently sauté until well blended. Now, add the cauliflower florets and sauté turning occasionally to coat for 2-3 minutes. Cover and cook until just tender, about 5 more minutes.

Garnish with fresh cilantro.

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This curry was like a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that I’d once heard…..especially the last movement, with everything screaming and banging “Joy.'” It stunned, it made one fear great art. My father could say nothing after the meal.
~Anthony Burgess

Lens culinaris is a bushy annual legume, well adapted to semi-arid, cool conditions and cultivated for its lens-shaped seeds which are usually smaller than an eraser head. Low in fat and protein/iron laden lentils have a mild, nutty, and fairly terrene flavor. Given their nutritive vigor, they form an intergral part of global diets, especially in the Indian subcontinent with its abundant vegetarian populace. Vegan comfort food.

The rainbow coalition of lentil shades is dazzling: black, beluga, brown, green, orange, maroon, crimson, pink, red, tan, yellow, white, black & white. A common red lentil is the Red Chief which is a lovely salmon pink in dried form, but turns golden when cooked. As lentils are rather submissive by nature, they are suited to more dominant, assertive spices, such as sense-evocative curries.

Dried lentils may be stored in an airtight container for up to a year in a cool, dry place…a pantry sine qua nons.

RED OR BROWN LENTIL CURRY

2 t cumin seeds
2 t coriander seeds
1/4 t mustard seeds
1 T black peppercorns

1 t turmeric
1 t red pepper flakes

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 T canola oil oil
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 T curry paste

1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper

2 C vegetable stock
1 1/2 C dried red or brown lentils
1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
Sea salt

Basmati rice, cooked
1 C fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Spread lentils out on a large plate to check for, and remove, small stones or debris. Then, place lentils in a strainer, and rinse thoroughly under cool running water.

In a small heavy skillet, combine the coriander, cumin, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Toast over low medium heat, shaking the pan until very slightly browned but not burned, 2-3 minutes. Cool and then add to a spice grinder or coffee mill and grind to a fine powder. Add the turmeric and red pepper and pulse the grinder a couple of times until well mixed. Set aside the curry spice powder.

Saute onion in oil in a heavy medium sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just turning golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and jalapeño or serrano chile and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Add the curry spice powder (above) and curry paste; cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in stock, lentils, coconut milk, cinnamon stick and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Serve over Basmati rice with cilantro scattered on top.

Pourboire: Cauliflower florets can be added for the last 10 minutes of the simmer.