Gobi Achari, or Cauliflower With Five Spices, is one of those dishes that reminds you just why the food of India is a hit nearly anywhere in the world.
In my last post, I asked you all what it is about Indian food that you love. I loved reading what you had to say, all of it so true. To some, Indian food brought memories of friends, to others, like me, it is mom’s food — the food we grew up with. And to many others, it is the spices, the aromas, the fact that most Indian vegetarian food is rather healthy because it’s based on legumes, grains, and vegetables.
According to a recent article in The Washington Post, there’s also a scientific reason why most of us cannot resist Indian food (except Americans who do). And that allure burrows all the way down to the molecular level: when Indians cook a dish, we tend to use ingredients that have no common flavor compounds. None, zip, nada. Now while this may sound a little esoteric, here’s how it breaks down: most world cuisines tend to pair ingredients that have an overlap in their flavor base: think beef and potatoes, which share common flavor compounds, or beer and cheddar cheese. But Indian cooks (not wittingly, of course, because we are not all born molecular chemists) tend to minimize the use of overlapping flavors in the same dish. And the “hodge-podge” we cook up with all of this diversity results in some powerful alchemy.
The moment I read that, I went a-ha!
It makes sense, doesn’t it? We Indians are nothing if not mixer-uppers when it comes to the rules, and logic does not interfere with our love for the improbable and the oxymoronic. Best of all, we make it work. For instance, we wear shocking-pink blouses with turquoise-blue skirts and we make it rock. When we fast, we shun the healthy foods we would usually eat and stuff ourselves silly on starchy, oily treats that taste oh so good. Our movies — called masala movies for a good reason — are filled with characters and situations no one in their right mind would invent. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have tears in our eyes as the “hero” — who has just been shot through the heart — single-handedly rescues the gagged and bound “heroine” and disposes of two dozen armed villains who are about to destroy the country with a nuclear bomb. All this, right before everyone breaks into a song and a dance.
But I digress. If you’re looking for the perfect hodge podge of flavors for your next Indian dish, you couldn’t go wrong with my Gobi Achari and its mad mix of ingredients.
The base of Gobi Achari is made of five vibrant seeds — cumin, mustard, fennel, nigella, and fenugreek — that are commonly used in pickling (the spice mix goes by the name of Panch Phoron in eastern India). Together these distinctly different spices — earthy, pungent, sweet, spicy and bitter — titillate and tease your tastebuds. And although you can make an Achari with just about any vegetable, there is no veggie better than the spongy cauliflower to soak up all of that goodness.
Achari dishes often use yogurt to add creaminess. I subbed with tofu, and it worked like a charm. If there’s someone you know who just won’t eat tofu, try sneaking it in with this dish and they’ll never know. If you are soy-free, you could also try this with some cashew cream or coconut milk (although coconut milk would alter the flavor somewhat).
So go on, enjoy this Indian treat, and if you don’t like it…well, a bunch of scientists would agree that you need to get your head examined.
Just kidding. 🙂
A tasty and simple cauliflower dish with pickling spices that works as the perfect side with a meal of dal and rice.
- 1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and separated into florets
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp nigella seeds or kalonji
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds or methi
- 1 tsp fennel seeds or saunf
- 6 ounces silken tofu, blended until smooth
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Salt to taste
- Coriander leaves for garnish
- Heat the oil. Add the mustard, cumin, nigella, fenugreek and fennel seeds. When they sputter and start to darken, add the onions.
- Saute the onions, stirring frequently, until they turn translucent.
- Add the cayenne, paprika and salt. Stir to mix.
- Add the cauliflower florets and mix well. Add the tofu. Mix.
- Cover the pan and let the cauliflower florets cook until fairly tender but not mushy. Stir every few minutes to make sure the florets are cooking evenly.
- Add salt and lemon juice. Mix thoroughly. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot.