And Now For Something Completely Different {cauliflower curry}

Until this weekend, I hadn’t cooked a meal in my kitchen in eight whole days. It wasn’t intentional – a combination of guests, work, travel and the Third Annual Home Office Christmas Party with my husband (it was early this year) meant that the stove had been cold, neglected, and lonely. Yesterday, between running errands, hitting the gym, carving out a very important slot for Twilight Breaking Dawn Part One and a visit to our new neighborhood “boutique charcuterie”, The Spotted Trotter, I decided it was time for me to become stove-bound and bring the Le Creuset out of its short retirement.

With the looming turkey dinner on the horizon this week and the overabundance of just about everything food-related, I thought a warm, slightly spicy, bright cauliflower and chickpea curry would be a nice start to the week of gluttony ahead. I had retired distracted on Saturday night following the highs and lows of the day’s college football action and ended up shooting out of bed because I forgot to soak my chickpeas. Somehow, in my slumbery-stupor, I managed to shuffle to the kitchen to dump a random quantity of dried chickpeas in a big bowl and cover with water so that they would be ready for me on Sunday. Well-played, sleep-cooker, well-played.

While Rachael Ray would call this recipe a “stoup,” I refuse to do so because I think that most of the things that come out of her mouth are raspy and ridiculous (even though that title sort of works). I serve this over brown rice but you can eat it as a stew if you prefer. It’s not a hard recipe but it does require a lot of spices that you may not have on hand. We’re lucky enough to live near a farmer’s market that sells herbs and spices for super cheap and so I don’t feel bad buying whole cardamom pods and the like. I say invest in these few things and if you like the curry recipe, curry up some other stuff over the winter to get your money’s worth.

Here’s the low-down:

  • 2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cardamom pods, cracked
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 2 red onions; 1 quartered, 1 diced
  • 1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 4 – 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 – 2 Serrano chiles, chopped (seeded for less heat)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 – 3 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1/2 bag frozen chopped okra
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • cheesecloth
  • twine

So, first things first, drain your chickpeas. I ended up measuring out 4 cups of them once they had been soaked, but because I was asleep when I started this task, I have no idea how many that was to begin with. Let’s just say it was two cups of dried.

While those are standing by, go ahead and make your spice bundle. Place the cinnamon stick, the bay leaves, cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns in some cheesecloth and tie up with a length of twine. Also note that a lot of these flavors are common in mulled wine and cider in the winter, so there’s another use for the random spices in which you’ll be investing.

Add the chickpeas and spice bundle to a large dutch oven. Cover with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim off any crud from the pot while you cook the garbanzos for 45-50 minutes until they’re tender.

Now on to prep chef mode. Time to get the rest of your stuff ready for cooking. Put the quartered onion, ginger and garlic in a mini-prep or food processor and blend until you make a paste. Dice the other onion, tomato and Serrano(s) and break down your head of cauliflower so things look like this:

When your chickpeas are tender, go ahead and drain them and reserve all of your cooking liquid and the spice bundle. I am horrible about reading a recipe all the way through before I get started and I’m sure that I would risk pouring the water down the drain. I hope you’re smarter than I am because the flavor from the chickpea cooking liquid is what makes this so good. Take the dutch oven and place over medium-high heat on the stove. Add the olive oil and cooked the diced onion for 3 -4 minutes until they begin to brown. Then add the onion, ginger and garlic paste, the Serrano chiles and the cumin, coriander and turmeric.

Cook for about 6 – 7 minutes or until dry. It should resemble this:

Once you get here, it’s time to start wrapping this up. Add the chickpeas, 3 cups of the cooking liquid (keep saving it, you may need some more later), the tomatoes and the spice bundle and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes.

That yellow color is from the turmeric. It’s such a bright colored spice, I have to imagine that sometime back in the day someone must have dyed fabric with it. Maybe I’m just imagining. Now dump in the cauliflower and cook for another 5 – 6 minutes.

Now add the okra. You may need to add a bit more cooking liquid. Use your wonderful judgment and personal taste to make that decision. I pulled out the spice bundle at this point because all of my peppercorns and cloves had begun to escape.

Cook for another 10 – 15 minutes or until your brown rice is done. Add the lemon juice and cilantro just before serving. Even if you don’t like cilantro and you decide to leave that out, be sure not to skip the lemon juice. Those two flavors really brighten things up and balance out the clove/cinnamon vibe happening.

This really is a fantastic dinner even though it’s less familiar than other things I grew up eating. It’s a satisfying, healthy vegetarian dinner that I implore you to try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I think. I hope.

For some reason, I’m cooking at home tonight and tomorrow night too – despite the fact that there’s a lot of Thanksgiving cooking to do and I have a lot of leftovers on hand. Check back this week for chicken and yellow rice.

Everything I cook is yellow.