Vasundhara Chauhan finds that when you celebrate the ingredients, innovation happens.
Gobhi alu, gobhi matar, gobhi chawal, gobhi paratha on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… The same phool gobhi, cauliflower, that I wait for all summer, is now coming out of my ears. Recently, in desperation, we devised a different recipe, using the other winter ingredient, methi, fenugreek leaves, dried (otherwise known as kasuri methi), and it came out rather special. I know it’s going to be the flavour of the month but I’m trying to avoid overkill, lest this, too, exhaust us with repetition.
So I looked for more variations and found Delia Smith’s recipe, which has such Indian ingredients that I wonder why no one told me. It’s combined with broccoli and flavoured with garlic and coriander seeds. I serve it sometimes with a Western meal, but it goes well with our own desi khana too — with or without the broccoli. The original recipe calls for baking, but it’s pretty good cooked slowly in a heavy bottomed pan.
The other vegetable that grows in every season and thence must appear on the table with regularity is baingan, aubergine — or eggplant. Apart from bharta, the grilled and mashed style; in curry mixed with potatoes; in dal; or, when being adventurous, in moussaka, it’s like any other veggie: limited. Recently I was thrilled to be presented with Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. I’d heard of the cooking and the delis/canteens/restaurants in Notting Hill, Islington, Belgravia, Kensington and NOPI (North of Piccadilly), and of him, Yotam Ottolenghi. He’s 44 and Israeli and Sami Tamimi, his executive chef, is Palestinian. What I really like about his recipes is that he celebrates ingredients. The recipes are simple and clear, and cooking from them is not intimidating; it’s quite doable. He wrote a vegetarian cookbook called Plenty that it matched the sales of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and this volume too, gives vegetables as much importance as it does meats. All the photographs are extraordinary and there’s one of “Chickpeas and spinach with honeyed sweet potato”, a reddish-brown curry with fat golden chickpeas and thick slices of browned sweet potato, topped with roughly cut coriander leaves that could easily be something my grandmother cooked — had she thought of this combination. Because it includes garlic, onions, tomatoes, spinach, honey, and coriander and cumin seeds. What could be easier? The ingredients, the cooking processes, are all familiar: imagination makes the difference.
But I was on the subject of aubergines. The same book has a recipe for a dish that is very close to home, which should come as no surprise this is where the baingan began. Our baingan ka bharta starts the same way, by grilling and peeling the aubergines. Then we sauté onions and tomatoes and add the peeled and mashed aubergines. In our east the grilling is the same, but after that, they stir in uncooked cold mustard oil and chopped raw onions, green chillies and coriander and sometimes grilled and peeled tomatoes. Ottolenghi’s recipe is almost identical to this.
BURNT AUBERGINE WITH YELLOW PEPPER AND RED ONION
2 medium aubergines
2 yellow or green peppers, cored and cut into 1.5 cm dice
1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
24 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower or nut oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar
3 tsp ground cumin
Place aubergines directly on separate flames and roast for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs, until charred and black. Remove from flame and either cut lengthwise and scoop out flesh, avoiding burnt skin, or remove burnt skin with a paper towel and wipe clean with a fresh dampened paper towel.
Cut aubergine and remove seeds if they’re large and tough. Leave aubergine flesh to drain in a colander for an hour.
Mash roughly with a fork and mix in all the other ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning. “It should be robust and pungent.”
CAULIFLOWER AND BROCCOLI WITH GARLIC AND CORIANDER
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp whole coriander seeds, coarsely crushed
4 garlic cloves, peeled
Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F) if using baking method.
Trim the cauliflower and broccoli into one-inch florets. Place in a mixing bowl and sprinkle the crushed coriander seeds. Crush into a paste the cloves of garlic together with 3/4 tsp salt. Whisk in the oil, then pour the whole mixture over the broccoli and cauliflower. Mix well with your hands, making sure everything is coated with oil and flavourings.
Arrange florets on a roasting tray and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until tender when tested with a skewer, and serve straight away. Or, heat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and place florets in it. Cook on medium heat for five minutes, then stir. Lower heat and cook, covered, for 20 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
PHOOLGOBHI KASURI METHI
2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves, soaked
2+2 tbsp mustard oil
1 tsp red chilli powder
1cup yoghurt, beaten
Trim cauliflower, removing stems. Cut into large florets. In large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat 2 tbsp oil and quickly sauté florets in 3-4 batches. Keep aside. Squeeze fenugreek leaves, wipe pan, add remaining oil and fry fenugreek 2 minutes. Add cauliflower florets, chilli powder and salt, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in beaten yoghurt and simmer, covered, until cauliflower is tender but quite firm.