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The Handoff: Cauliflower and Vegetable Curry

2010 November 18

by Allison Radecki

Cauliflower and PeasAs I mentioned in my post on Tuesday, the flakes of NYC’s first snow flurry set me on a mission to craft a bowl of something that would combat the cold.  Kismet and Sarah’s Cauliflower & Sage Soufflé had set me on a course to use a glorious cauliflower specimen I picked up at the farmer’s market.  Leafing through cookbooks at home, I found plenty of ideas for pickling or roasting slices of cauliflower, but none of those methods satisfied my craving for something creamy and warm.  Though I did try a delicious version of baked macaroni and cheese – I wanted to be a bit more adventurous.  So I went back to the books to see what other techniques or ingredients would spark my cauliflower imagination.

I’ve long been a fan of Christopher Kimball, the bowtie-wearing cook and editor who founded Cook’s Illustrated magazine, so I sought out the cookbook based on the magazine’s public television series, America’s Test Kitchen.  The magazine’s motto, “You don’t need 100 recipes for roast chicken (or anything else).  You just need one that works,” is sacred in my kitchen.  The care, precision and multiple variations that the recipe testers employ to unearth the best method and ingredients for crafting a particular dish, is astonishing.  Whenever I’m in doubt as to how to make something new, I turn to Cook’s Illustrated first.  When I saw the intriguing heading for Vegetable Curry in The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, I knew that I had found my inspiration for the week.

Garam Masala, Curry Powder & Habaneros

Venturing into the territory of exotic spice mixtures may seem daunting, but the techniques outlined by the Cook’s cooks, allow you to cross the curry threshold without fear.  With curry powder and garam masala—the two spice mixtures that provide the main flavors of this dish— available in most supermarket spice sections, you don’t need to worry about having to visit a specialty Indian spice shop.  Though, if you are in Manhattan (or fond of shopping with a click of the mouse), Kalustyan’s is a New York institution and an incredible store where you can procure the freshest spice mixtures and discover new Middle Eastern and Indian offerings with every visit.   Just opening the front door of its Lexington Avenue location and breathing in the mingled scents of chili, turmeric and other aromatics is an international adventure in itself— and all without the need of an airline ticket.

A couple of notes on making this recipe a success: Toasting the curry spices before cooking with them is key, and makes their fragrance truly ‘pop.’  While stirring the curry powder and garam masala mixture over a medium-high flame and watching the mixture begin to gently smoke, my kitchen was perfumed with spices (which still lingered two days after the dish was made).  Prepping all of the individual ingredients before beginning the actual cooking process makes for an effortless curry; fifteen minutes spent peeling, chopping, draining and dicing—getting all my vegetables and canned goods ready for the stove— made all the difference.  This is a great recipe for using up canned goods that you may already have, dig through your cupboards and see what you can use!  Once the potatoes, onions and cauliflower florets were ready to go, following the recipe directions was a snap.

Though the initial recipe called for a Serrano chile, I had a basket full of fiery-hot Habaneros from my sister’s garden challenging me to test their mettle.  Since it was bowl of warmth that I desired, I figured that using one of the more intensely spicy species of chile pepper would do the trick.  That said, I was sure to use only one habanero and made it a point to not rub my eyes or nose after I had de-seeded and chopped the orange spitfire into tiny bits.  Having made that mistake in the past (note: washing eyes and nose with milk eases the pain), I didn’t want to fall into that scorching trap again.

Making Cauliflower & Vegetable Curry

Cauliflower and Vegetable Curry

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes



  • 1 Tbs sweet or mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 4 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (approx. 1 Tbsp.)
  • 1 Habanero or Serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed and minced
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions, minced (about 2 cups)
  • 2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced into 1/2inch pieces
  • 1/2 head medium cauliflower, trimmed, cored, and cut into 1/2inch florets
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or coconut cream
  • table salt, to taste

Yogurt Sauce:

  • 1 handful cilantro, chopped, to garnish
  • 1 cup whole plain yogurt
  • 1 Tbs minced mint
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Directions

Note: Be sure to cook up a pot of basmati rice to accompany the curry.

  1. Toast the curry powder and garam masala in a small pan over medium-high heat. Stir the mixture constantly until it starts to darken and becomes very toasty and fragrant (about 1 minute). Set aside the toasted spices in a bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together 1 Tablespoon of oil, the garlic, the ginger, the Serrano or habanero pepper and tomato paste.
  3. Heat the remaining 3 Tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the onions and potatoes and cook—stirring occasionally—until the onions are caramelized and the potatoes have golden edges (about 10 minutes).
  4. Reduce the heat to medium. Clear a space in the center of the pan by pushing the vegetables to the side of the pan and add the ginger/garlic and oil mixture into the cleared space. Cook this mixture— mashing the mixture into the pan—until you can smell the fragrant aroma (about 30 seconds to 1 minute). Stir the entire mixture into the potatoes and onions.
  5. Add the toasted spices into the pan and cook them with the vegetables—stirring to blend them well (about 1 minute).
  6. Add the cauliflower florets to the pan and cook—stirring constantly until the spices coat the florets (about 2 minutes).
  7. Add the diced tomatoes, the water, the chickpeas and 1 teaspoon salt—scraping up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Bring this to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium and cook 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
  8. Stir in the peas and coconut milk and cook through a further 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
  9. For the yogurt sauce: mix the yogurt, mint and garlic in a small bowl. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
  10. Serve the curry over cooked rice, garnish with cilantro and yogurt sauce if desired.

Cauliflower & Vegetable Curry with Yogurt Sauce

With my kitchen scented like a Moghul’s paradise, I tucked into a bowl of cauliflower curry over rice.  Talk about hitting the spot….  The addition of the cooling yogurt sauce on top proved a perfect wintry contrast to the creamy curry, which hinted at warmer climates and sunnier days.  Let the snow flurries come.  I’ve found my bowl of comfort.