“Foods I didn’t discover until adulthood” are getting to be a theme on this blog, which I’m pretty sure is because there are so darn many of them. As a young child, I only ate three things we could reliably get outside of the house: hamburgers (well-done only, no pink), pepperoni pizza, and spaghetti with red sauce. Add a father with equally, er, selective tastes and you get a childhood with fairly limited cuisine.
So that’s how it happened that I didn’t discover Indian food until I went to live in England for a year when I was twenty. (Other discoveries of the same year: sushi, falafel, and portobello mushrooms. Also wine and kir. It was a good time.) And then, for years, I ate amazing Indian food in restaurants, but utterly failed to recreate anything like it at home.
Fortunately for all of us, that era is past. The secret, it turns out, is really great garam masala. I buy it from an Indian grocery, but you can also get it online, and it is the difference between “random bunch of Indian-inspired spices” and “YUM.” This recipe for potatoes and cauliflower (aloo gobi) is a little less saucy than most restaurant preparations, but every bit as tasty.
Indian-style Cauliflower and Potatoes
Adapted from Madhur Jeffrey’s World Vegetarian
Canola oil for the pan
About 1 pound of potatoes
About 1 1/2 pounds of cauliflower
About an inch-long piece of fresh ginger
1/4 t. turmeric
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. garam masala
1/2 t. salt plus more to taste
black pepper to taste
First, wash the potatoes. Chop into one-inch chunks. Line a plate with paper towels and set it to the side.
Heat a large skillet with a lid* with a about three tablespoons of oil and the same amount of water over medium heat. When it is hot, add the potatoes and cover. Cook until the potatoes are cooked through, 7-12 minutes.
While this is happening, chop off the stem of the cauliflower, and then chop it into florets, no more than about an inch and a half across. It’s okay to cut large natural florets into smaller pieces with a knife.
Then remove the lid from the potatoes and allow the water to boil off. (You can check to make sure they’re done by poking with a fork or toothpick; it should easily pierce all the way through.)
Fry the potatoes until they are golden brown, stirring only occasionally, 3-5 minutes per side, adding oil as needed to prevent sticking. When the potatoes are done, use a spatula or slotted spoon to remove them to the prepared plate, and line a second plate with paper towels.
Add the cauliflower to the remaining oil (add more if needed!) and cook, stirring only occasionally, until it is soft and caramelized on the edges, 5-8 minutes. While it is cooking, peel and chop the onion.
When the cauliflower is done, use the spatula to turn it out onto the second plate. Check to make sure there are a couple of tablespoons of oil in the bottom of the pan, then add the onion. As it softens, grate the ginger.**
When the onion is soft, add the ginger to the skillet and cook half a minute, until it is fragrant. Add the other spices and stir to coat everything, then add the potatoes and cauliflower back in, along with three tablespoons of water. Stir everything to coat, then turn the heat down, cover, and allow to cook for about five minutes.
This recipe makes about four servings and reheats beautifully. It also doubles well, but the vegetables really get some of their flavor from their contact with the pan during the initial frying (which caramelizes them to that lovely golden brown), so you may need to do that step in batches.
*The lid doesn’t have to belong to the pot, just to cover it or the contents reasonably well.
**I love a microplane grater for this; my favorite is a big flat one like this.