This Creamy Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Is Light Enough for Summer

[Photographs: Emily and Matt Clifton]

When most vegetables you're introduced to in childhood come in mushy boiled form, you might be forgiven for going to great lengths to avoid even one more plate of such pallid, soggy specimens. That was certainly the case with Matt, who grew up in rural England in the 1970s, where mealtimes tended toward the unimaginative. Not a single vegetable in his youth was immune to being boiled beyond recognition. Cauliflower was perhaps worst of all, since it loses every last trace of itself after an overlong stay in the vegetable pot.

But cauliflower is another story entirely when it's roasted. If you, like Matt, grew up thinking of it as soft, insipid, and unappealing, you'll hardly recognize it after it comes out of a hot oven—transformed into something with texture, color, and sweet, nutty, caramel richness. It's become one of our favorite vegetables, and one that we particularly love in this creamy, spiced Indian dish.

It may be strange to think of cauliflower as anything but a fall and winter vegetable, especially for those of us in the Northeast, where it doesn't respond well to the summer heat (we know, because we've tried growing it in our garden). But in other regions, including California, cauliflower can be grown throughout much of the year, which means you can reliably find good varieties at your local grocery pretty much any time.

Emily and I love it even during the hottest months, often as a way to lighten up heavier meat-based dishes, including the traditional Indian dish Mughlai chicken. Bathed in a creamy, almond-y sauce, it's not exactly the kind of thing one gravitates toward in the summer, but replace that meat with roasted cauliflower and it becomes an entrée that's hefty enough to be filling, yet light enough to work regardless of the season. We used orange cauliflower in our photos here, since we liked the color in this dish, but, of course, the more standard white kind would work just as well.

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For those who aren't familiar, "Mughlai" refers to a style of cooking in India. When describing the chicken dish, it often means specifically a creamy, slow-simmered sauce flavored with almonds, spices like cinnamon and garam masala, and golden raisins. Since we're riffing on that chicken version, that's the sauce we're working with here, too.

The quality of the finished dish is directly correlated with the quality of the spices used in it. You'll need quite a few, so this is a great opportunity to expand your spice cabinet (or replace anything that's been sitting around for more than a year, losing flavor).

The first step when making it is to roast the cauliflower florets. We like to do that in a 450°F (230°C) oven to brown them deeply, helping to develop the cauliflower's flavor.

To make the sauce, you'll need ground almonds. You might be able to find them pre-ground at a well-stocked grocery or health food store, but it's easy enough to whizz up sliced raw ones in a food processor. We start the sauce by sautéing onions with the "hard" spices (cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves), then add the powdered spices (cumin, coriander, garam masala), the ground almonds, and a little water. We cook it until the water has been absorbed by the nuts and everything starts taking on a toasted appearance and aroma. This step is crucial to ensuring that the spice and nut flavors mellow and meld.

Next, we stir in Greek yogurt, vegetable stock, and cream and simmer it all until the mixture has thickened. We then stir in the roasted cauliflower until it's hot and well coated in the creamy sauce.

We love serving this with basmati rice and fresh homemade raita (yogurt with sliced or grated cucumber and roughly chopped mint leaves), which provides a refreshing counterpoint to the heat and spice of the main dish—the cooling touch will be welcome, no matter what the weather.