Monday, May 6, 2013

Cauliflower Hoopla--Cauliflower Subji

I unequivocally love cauliflower. As a side, in soup, fried Manchurian style, in pullao, in a raita or just plain boiled. All these variations work for me. So I share one of my favorite with you, a side, a subji, a piquant accompaniment to daal and rice.

Growing up back home in India, cauliflower was a seasonal vegetable making its rounds only in winter. Prettily arranged in tiered rows, white heads peeked out from under dark green leafy wraps. At the market, I was instructed to test the florets, to feel for firmness, to look out for worms and above all to choose one that was snowy white! So the bhajiwala or vegetable seller patiently endured the pokes and prods of knowledgeable hands until the prize was chosen! The chosen head was taken home, cut into florets and dunked into lukewarm water. Lukewarm water you ask? Remember the worms? The water supposedly brought the worms out of the inner nooks and crannies. In all the years of cleaning cauliflowers as instructed, I have never seen a worm or caterpillar or any bug! But always listen to your Mum! She knows best.

After all that hard work back home, buying and cleaning cauliflower here is piece of cake! It is available through out the year and I don't have to dunk the florets in warm water!! Just a good clean under running water and I'm ready to use it any way I want. Mum had come to visit when I first moved to the US. Needless to say she was amused and thrilled with easy cauliflower cleaning detail!

Indian meals are usually eaten with a meat or chicken curry, some subjis (vegetables), a dal and rice or chapattis . The vegetable sides are as important as the main dish as it provides a contrast. For me an Indian meal is not complete without the requisite veggie side.

Cauliflower Tomato Methi Subji
Makes enough for 4 people

I small head of Cauliflower or 1/2 a large head of Cauliflower
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes
I cup fresh Fenugreek( Methi) leaves OR fresh baby Spinach leaves
3 tablespoons Canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
4 coins or slices of Ginger
1 Jalapeño pepper
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Cilantro, finely chopped

Trim the outer leaves of the cauliflower. Wash and cut into small florets. You should have 4 to 5 cups.

Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes.

If you are using fenugreek leaves.....pick the leaves off the stems. Discard stems as the stems are bitter and indelible. Wash the leaves in a colander and let them drip-dry. Roughly chop the leaves. If you are substituting baby spinach leaves, wash well in a colander.

Trim the jalapeño pepper and finely dice. If you do not like your veggies spicy, then remove the seeds and inner white membrane before you dice the pepper.

Heat canola oil in stainless steel saucepan over a medium high flame.

When the oil shimmers, add cumin seeds and let them turn several shades darker.

The coins of ginger go into the oil and fry for 30 seconds.

The diced jalapeños and cauliflower florets are added to the oil. Give the veggies a stir.

Add the cherry tomatoes and chopped fenugreek leaves.

Sprinkle the turmeric, chili powders and kosher salt over veggies. Stir well so spices coat the veggies.

Cover pan with a tight-fitting lid and cook on a medium flame.

Let the veggies cook for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

You do not need to add water as the veggies will cook in their own steam.

After 15 minutes remove the lid and garnish with chopped cilantro.

You can make this dish ahead of time. Reheat in the pan or in the oven in a heatproof dish.


Fresh fenugreek leaves can be bought at Indian grocery stores. It comes in bunches with roots attached. The leaves have to be washed thoroughly as they are a little gritty.

As I indicated, you can easily substitute spinach leaves.

I love cauliflower subji with rice and dal. Florets are cooked with the right, each floret holding its shape. The slightly bitter inflection of fenugreek leaves offsets the sweet tomato taste. Yellow, green and red hues vividly contrast against a mound of white rice. A fork and spoon works well. My fingers are MUCH better. It's good to the last floret!