More than those of any other cuisine, Indian recipes seem to transform vegetables. Even without an animal product in sight, a curry can manage to taste meaty. You never get up from the table thinking, "That could have been more flavorful," if the recipe is prepared correctly. And this is nowhere more apparent than with cauliflower, which is generally insipid raw, but deeply satisfying once cooked with plenty of spices and caramelization. It's in the running for "meatiest" vegetable around.
I adapted this recipe from Martha Rose-Shulman's book The Very Best Recipes for Health, drawn in part from her column on the New York Times website, which I've used in the past for ideas. Though she calls for steaming the cauliflower, I opted to roast it to add another dimension of flavor, but stuck with her spice profile of ginger, turmeric, cayenne, and cumin. The key is allowing the spices plenty of time to marry their flavors in the oil before adding other ingredients. This is where that magical "curry" flavor emerges, greater than the sum of its parts.
- 1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
- 4 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola
- One (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted in a dry skillet, ground
- 2 serrano chilis, minced
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted in a dry skillet, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup canned diced tomatoes (or fresh in season)
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Cooked rice, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss cauliflower florets with half of oil. Spread on baking sheet. Roast until caramelized and mostly tender, 15-20 minutes. Break into smaller bite-sized florets as necessary.
Heat remaining oil in small stainless-steel skillet until shimmering. Add ginger and serrano chilis and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and pinch of salt. Allow spices to toast in oil, being careful not to burn, for at least one minute. Add cauliflower and toss well in spices. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, then add tomatoes. Cook until thickened and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt.
Stir in cilantro and serve with rice, passing lime wedges tableside.