Tuesday, August 31, 2010

South Indian Cauliflower with Scallions

The best food in India is cooked at home, often utilizing just a few spices and market fresh ingredients. Ghar ka khana (home-style) cauliflower radiates deep satisfaction yet is very easy to make. It is always the surprise hit when I serve it at parties. Guests are attracted to the vivid green tangle of scallions atop golden brown clusters of cauliflower speckled in dark mustard seeds. The underlying secret is shallots, which add a delicate complexity when slightly caramelized along with the cauliflower. A short steam bath ensures tender florets that brown as the liquid reduces, encrusting them in the spices. In South India, shallots are sometimes called scallions, probably the origin of the name of this dish. I tasted several versions on my travels through Kerala and Tamil Nadu and none used spring onions. Intrigued with the idea of adding them to the already delicious cauliflower, I tried frying slender stalks of scallion (also known as green onions) to add some color and textural contrast and loved the results. This dish can be made ahead and served at room temperature adding to its allure as a party food.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch scallions (about 6), trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 1/2 teaspoons black or yellow mustard seeds
1 small dried chile, snipped in half and seeded
4-5 shallots (about 8 ounces), peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed, quartered, and cut into 2-inch florets
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt crystals
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder


Chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves (about 1 tablespoon)

FRYING THE SCALLIONS (GREEN ONIONS).  Crumple several paper towels and place in a shallow bowl near the stove. Heat the oil in a large wide skillet over high heat and when the oil is hot, add the scallions. Cook, turning once or twice with a slotted spoon until limp but still bright green, about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.

COOKING THE CAULIFLOWER. Add the mustard seeds and red chile to the hot oil in the same skillet. When the mustard seeds start to crackle, reduce the heat to medium-high and add the shallots. Cook, stirring frequently until starting to turn pale golden brown at the edges, about 2 minutes.  Add the cauliflower, turmeric, salt, and cayenne, stirring to mix well. Stir in 1 cup of hot water, cover and steam the cauliflower until tender-crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking until all the liquid is dried up and the cauliflower starts to brown, stirring and turning from time to time until golden brown all over and crisped in spots, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt.  Mix in the scallions and transfer to a serving dish. Serve garnished with the coriander (cilantro). Makes 4-6 servings.

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