Why It Works
- Deep frying the cauliflower in two batches improves the texture of the final dish and prevents the cauliflower florets from becoming soggy or greasy.
- Parboiling the potatoes in salted, vinegared water helps them maintain their shape and seasons them thoroughly.
Aloo gobi, literally "potato cauliflower" in Hindi, is a dish that's enjoyed throughout the Indian subcontinent, and it has seemingly infinite variations. It can take the form of a curry, with the potato and cauliflower bits swimming in a spiced gravy; it can also be served as a sabzi (a seasoned vegetable) that's relatively dry, with the potato and cauliflower just barely coated with a sauce made with spices, aromatics and tomato, or completely dry, with the potatoes and cauliflower simply stir-fried in a mixture of oil and spices. The seasoning of the dish varies according to regional preferences, or according to the whims of the cook who's doing the preparing; it can contain spices like whole mustard seeds, asafoetida, and anardana, it might have cardamom, black cardamom, and cloves, it may have fresh fenugreek leaves and chaat masala, or it may be seasoned very simply with a tomato-based sauce with some turmeric and dried fenugreek leaves, as I do here.
The kind of aloo gobi you prefer likely depends on the version or versions you grew up eating, or you may, like me, be ecumenical about your aloo gobi and like it pretty much any and every way. Like a tuna salad, or butter chicken, I find I can happily eat aloo gobi no matter how it's prepared, so long as it's salty enough.
However, when making aloo gobi myself, I have a few preferences. Growing up in New Delhi, my family ate a fair amount of aloo gobi at home, but I invariably preferred the aloo gobi I could get elsewhere, particularly the drier kinds in which the the cauliflower was deep fried instead of stewed, which makes the cauliflower taste nuttier and gives it a firmer texture. Deep frying the cauliflower and potatoes is standard procedure in many aloo gobi recipes, but my parents, like most home cooks, avoided deep frying whenever possible. I, on the other hand, don't mind it, so long as I'm not expected to stand around frying batch after batch of too-thin French fries.
Deep frying the cauliflower and potato for aloo gobi isn't as onerous as deep frying other things, though. Unlike cutlets, or battered items, or dredged things, the oil used to fry the cauliflower and potatoes stays relatively "clean": There aren't all that many small bits dispersed in the oil, and since the fry times in this recipe are relatively short and the fry temperature is relatively low, the bits that do remain aren't burned in any way, so the oil's flavor doesn't become acrid. Once strained, the oil can be cooled and reused several times, for more aloo gobi or for whatever else you'd like to fry, which both reduces the cost and, for me, makes the prospect of preparing this dish more appealing.
For the aloo portion of aloo gobi, I like using the trick of adding vinegar to the salted water I use for boiling the potatoes, which helps firm up the pectin in the potatoes, making them less likely to fall apart once stirred into the sauce along with the fried cauliflower. Since I'll have a wok full of hot oil out anyway, I also fry the potatoes after they've been boiled, to brown them lightly and to slightly crisp up their exteriors.
From there, all you have to do is make a quick masala with some whole cumin seed (bloomed in hot oil first), minced onions, ginger, garlic, green chile, dried fenugreek leaves, ground turmeric, diced plum tomatoes, and water. You'll want to take your time with the onions; you want them brown, which should happen fairly quickly given the relatively small amount of onions and the relatively large amount of oil used to brown them. I've had issues with burning dried fenugreek leaves in the past when (carelessly) adding them to very hot pans, so just in case, I suggest you mound the contents in the pan in the center and add the fenugreek leaves on top of that mound, after which you can stir everything together so the leaves' flavor and aroma bloom in the hot fat.
During testing, I made the same recipe but without the frying step, just to see whether I thought the deep frying was definitely worth doing, and I can report that it works quite well, but it isn't as good, as the cauliflower is a little less dry and makes the final dish a little watery. If you have an aversion to deep frying at home, you can follow the recipe as written, but instead of frying the cauliflower and the potatoes, you can roast them in a hot oven on a rimmed baking sheet; the quantities listed in the recipe should fit on a single rimmed baking sheet easily. (There are also many, many recipes for aloo gobi that don't call for deep frying.)
To make it with roasted vegetables, prepare a rimmed baking sheet in the same way as you would for roasted potato wedges: Spray it with nonstick cooking spray and then add a quarter cup of neutral oil to the pan, tilting it so the oil coats it evenly. Preheat your oven with a rack set in the middle position to 400°F (205°C), and while the oven heats parboil the potatoes exactly as directed in this recipes. When the potatoes are cool, place the cauliflower florets in a medium mixing bowl with a tablespoon of neutral oil, season it lightly with salt, and then toss it with your hands to distribute the oil evenly. Add the cauliflower and potatoes to the roasting pan, placing the flat, cut surfaces of the vegetables in contact with the pan, and roast for about 40 to 50 minutes, turning the potatoes once, until the cut sides of the cauliflower are browned and their tops are charring in spots and the potatoes are slightly crisped on their exteriors. You can then follow the rest of this recipe exactly and fold in the roasted vegetables at the end.
Aloo gobi can be served as part of a larger meal, or as the primary component of a meal, along with rice or flatbreads like chapati. Personally, I tend to enjoy leftover aloo gobi, straight out of a deli container pulled from my fridge.
- 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (12 ounces; 350g), peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 2 tablespoons (18g) plus 1 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) distilled white vinegar
- 2 quarts (1.9L) vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 medium head cauliflower (1 pound; 450g), trimmed and cut into 2-inch florets
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 small yellow onion (4 ounces; 110g), diced
- One 2-inch knob fresh ginger (1/3 ounce; 10g), peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2 hot green chiles, sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
- 2 teaspoons kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), crushed lightly (see note)
- 2 plum tomatoes (7 ounces; 200g), cored and diced
- 10 to 12 sprigs cilantro including stems, cut into 1-inch pieces
Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine potatoes, 2 tablespoons salt, vinegar, and 2 quarts cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender and offer little resistance when pierced with a paring knife, about 11 minutes. Drain potatoes, transfer to prepared baking sheet, and let cool for at least 20 minutes.
Line a separate rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. In a large Dutch oven or wok, heat oil over high heat to 375°F (190°C). Add half of the cauliflower florets and cook, stirring gently with a spider or tongs, until florets are lightly browned and fully tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer florets to prepared baking sheet and season lightly with salt. Return oil to return to 375°F and repeat with remaining florets.
Return oil to 375°F. Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp on the outside, about 2 minutes. Transfer potatoes to baking sheet with cauliflower and set aside. Carefully transfer oil to a large heatproof bowl.
Return 3 tablespoons oil to now-empty Dutch oven or wok and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add cumin seeds and cook until seeds start to spit, about 10 seconds. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onions just start to brown, about 8 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, and chiles and cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Mound vegetables in center of pan, add turmeric and dried fenugreek leaves on top, and stir to combine. Stir in chopped tomatoes and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and cook until tomatoes break down slightly and release their liquid, about 2 minutes.
Stir in 1 cup water, increase heat to high heat, and cook until liquid reduces slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Add reserved cauliflower and potatoes and fold gently to evenly coat vegetables with sauce. Off-heat, stir in cilantro. Serve immediately.
Wok or Dutch oven
It helps to crush the dried fenugreek leaves lightly before cooking with them to release their aroma; you can do this by cupping the leaves in your palm and crushing them with your thumb.
If you cannot find or do not have dried fenugreek leaves, you can substitute with 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, finely ground in a spice grinder.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Aloo gobi can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.