Today’s recipe is Cauliflower Kuzhambu. This dish really shows off a number of South Indian flavors and cooking techniques. Making it in a strictly traditional way can be a little complex and might seem overwhelming at first glance. I’ve noted a few shortcuts that can cut the preparation time substantially, but have also discussed the more labor intensive methods which you might want to follow if you have some extra time or if you are interested in the traditional techniques of South Indian cuisine. Notes are at the bottom about the unusual techniques and ingredients and suggestions for simplifying them. This recipe is adapted from Chandra Padmanabhan’s great cookbook Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India.
1/2 cup toor dal (see note)
2 cups cauliflower broken into 1″ pieces
1 teaspoon sambar powder (see note)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon rice flour (see note)
• for the Spice Paste
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon urad dal (see note)
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (see note)
2 tablespoons grated coconut
• for Tempering
2 teaspoons oil or ghee (see note)
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal (see note)
2 dry red chilis
10 curry leaves
1/4 cup coconut milk (see note)
1. Cook the toor dal in some water at a slow boil for about 20 minutes. Be careful that the dal doesn’t boil over and be ready to add more water as required to keep it from drying up. After 20 minutes, the dal should be soft but still retain its shape.
2. Heat some oil in a small frying pan or, even better, a small wok and add the spices for the spice paste. Fry spices until they are just browned. Add the grated coconut, cook for a few minutes and take off the heat to cool. When cool, grind the mixture in a mortar and pestle, spice grinder or Cuisinart, using a little water if necessary to make a smooth paste.
3. Cook the cauliflower with the tomatoes, sambar powder, turmeric and salt. To speed up the overall cooking process, you could cook this mixture in the microwave, starting with the cauliflower and spices and then adding the tomatoes at the very end.
4. Add the previously made spice paste, the precooked toor dal and the rice flour to the cooked cauliflower.
5. Heat a little oil or ghee in a pan. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds, urad dal, chilies and curry leaves. Keep a lid handy as the mustard seeds will pop. When the popping subsides (about 30 seconds) pour the mixture into the cauliflower.
6. Pour the coconut milk over the dish and mix well.
• Toor Dal Toor dal is a small reddish lentil that is used in many South Indian dishes, especially sambars and kozhambus. It is one of the quickest cooking of the Indian lentils and so it is handy to have around if you are not used to prepping your dinner many hours in advance (as I am not!) Indian cooks make great use of the pressure cooker, as it dramatically reduces cooking times, especially lentils. Some lentils and vegetables will cook in as little as 20% of the time it would take to cook the same food in a saucepan and this can make a big difference in getting meals prepared quickly.
• Spice Paste In a traditional indian home, many dishes use a spice paste or powder as a fundamental part of their flavoring. It is from these mixtures that the generic idea of “curry powder” arose. There are two fundamental problems with curry powder; firstly that a single multipurpose mixture cannot be tailored to requirements of an individual dish and secondly, that a pre-ground curry powder that has been sitting on the shelf for months or years has only a small fraction of the flavor and intensity that a specially ground spice mixture can have. The difference between spices that have been roasted and freshly ground and powdered spices from a can cannot be overstated.
• Frying Urad Dal
Urad Dal is a lentil that is used in many forms in South Indian cuisine. It is cooked as a soupy lentil dish, it is ground with rice and fermented to become the batter for Idli and Dosa, but in many South Indian dishes, such as this one, it is treated as a spice and browned in a little oil to give a distinctive taste.
• Asafoetida is the dried resin of a species of giant fennel-like plant common in South India. It has an unusual and somewhat unpleasant smell when raw, but when sizzled in oil, provides a complex, vaguely onion-like taste and aroma. It is not widely available except in Indian markets, and can be omitted with only a small loss of authenticity.
• Sambar Powder is a spice mixture that usually involves lentils, spices and chilies. There are dozens of regional and familial variations and many recipes begin by making sambar powder from scratch. It is available in Indian groceries as a ready made powder and if necessary, a generic “curry powder” can be substituted although it will change the flavor somewhat.
• Rice Flour Rice flour is often used to thicken a gravy in South India cooking. If unavailable, you can grind some rice in a coffee grinder or dedicated spice grinder, or use wheat flour instead.
• Ghee Ghee is one of the most common fats in South India. It is made by heating butter over a low heat until the solids settled out. The clear butterfat is poured off the top and used in place of oil in many dishes. Ghee adds a distinctive flavor, but other cooking oils can be substituted.
• Coconut Milk In a traditional Indian kitchen, coconut milk is made by extracting the milk from freshly ground coconut using warm or hot water. The first extraction is called “thick” coconut milk and the second extraction from the same ground coconut is called “thin” coconut milk. Although freshly extracted coconut milk from fresh ripe coconuts has a taste that no commercial product can duplicate, it is often better in the American kitchen to go with the can. Just as a good canned tomato can beat a “fresh” tomato in all but a few months of the northern summer, so the canned coconut milk is a better bet and vastly easier than extracting milk from supermarket coconuts.
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