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The cauliflower becomes a real man February 21, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.

The cauliflower has an identity problem but Suman Bakshi knows exactly how to solve it, says C Y Gopinath

YOU SURELY KNOW THE STORY of the poor, deluded cauliflower.

He tried to join the World Wrestling Federation, but was rejected on account of his ridiculous assertion that he should be treated as equal to beef. Claimed that though he had been plucked fresh from a vegetable patch, he had the soul of tenderloin.

This explains his current identity crisis. He feels macho yet curiously out of place when they marinate him in tandoori masalas and cook him along with seekhs and reshmis. On the other hand, he feels embarrassed but oddly at ease in a salad in the tittering company of baby corn and snow peas, all dressed in olive oil.

Most of all, the cauliflower is realising that without some cosmetic intervention — either complete immersion in some fancy French sauce or lots of garam masala — he will never be one of the boys. And this must be one of the reasons why cauliflowers, in season or out of it, are specially fond of Suman Bakshi neé Hattikudur, Mangalorean by heritage, Kashmiri by marriage, Mumbaiya by upbringing, a lady from neither here nor there and therefore at home everywhere, but particularly in her kitchen, where she casually re-incarnates old dishes into riveting new avatars.

For example, she’d added something devilish and tart to the cauliflower dish which I had christened Caulifornia after just one sampling.

“Aamchoor?” I asked expertly, but she shook her head.

Then what? Tamarind? Surely not. What was it? Suman ignored the question.

I first tasted Caulifornia some months ago out of a lunch box Suman had packed for her husband Jayant Bakshi. Now JB is not only is taller than Godzilla, but he comes from Kashmir and is a perfectionist who makes perfectly round chappatis. Which even Suman can’t do.

I knew, with my first mouthful of Caulifornia, that the phool gobi had finally become a somebody. An Oscar nomination was on its way.

I called up Suman and asked her whether she could make the dish for me.

“But which one do you mean?” she fretted. “I do so many different things to cauliflowers. Did it have tomato in it?”

No. But I remembered seeing bits of green leaves.

“They’d be cauliflower leaves. Was it red or —”

Definitely not red. Maybe no red chilly powder.

“Hmm. What about coriander leaves?”

I could not recall.

“If it had coriander, that would be a Kashmiri touch,” she said anxiously. “I change it around by adding Kasuri Methi leaves instead. Any paneer?”

Paneer and cauliflower? I was mortified. “No,” I said evenly. “Definitely no paneer. But green peas, yes.”

We couldn’t reach consensus on which cauliflower version had captivated me that day months ago, so Suman put together two entire cauliflower entreés, just in case. In the second one, the cauliflower is pressure cooked whole, immersed upto its ankles in a mesmerising tomato gravy. I named that dish Don Cauleone, but that was definitely not the cauliflower of my dreams. That honour went to Caulifornia.

Caulifornia is not a quickie dish. It has Kashmiri touches, such as the soont (dried ginger powder) and saunf (aniseed) powder. It also has a tangle of spices, with a little bit of everything — or so it would seem. But it is my considered insight that the trick is in the ginger and aniseed powders, the Kasuri Methi, and the browning of the cauliflower before the show starts. If you try it at home, and you should, then do remember that it connects outstandingly with hot chappatis and some plain, garnish-free masoor or tuvar dal.

“So,” I said, licking my fingers. “What’s the little extra you added which gave it that sharp undertaste?”

Suman looked distinctly uneasy. You see, she understands the cauliflower’s predicament: he hates dressing up. He likes to be seen with the boys, do the manly thing, even though he feels more at ease with the ladies in the beauty parlour. And now here Suman had dressed him up in saunf and dried ginger powder and made a proper parlour queen out of him. This is why, I now believe, in a fit of utter thoughtfulness, she tossed in a full teaspoonful of Dijon mustard paste along with the dried spices.

And thus converted the cauliflower from being a low, limp-wristed cousin of the cabbage to sheer majestic royalty.


Ingredients (to feed 4)
500 gms cauliflower
250 gms paneer
Half cup curds
2 green chillies finely chopped
1″ ginger cut into fine shreds
1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida)
Powdered spices
1 tsp jeera (cummin seeds)
1/2 tsp haldi (turmeric)
1 tsp jeera (cummin) powder
2 tsp dhania (coriander) powder
1 tsp soont (dried ginger powder)
1 tsp saunf (aniseed) powder
1 level tsp Kasuri Methi leaves
Vegetable oil for frying and cooking
Salt to taste

Garam masala: Grind together
1 big elaichi (cardamom)
1/4 tej patta (Bay leaf)
1” dalchini (cinnamon)
5 laung (cloves)
5 elaichi (green cardamom)
Some jaiphal (nutmeg) scrapings
5-6 whole black peppers

1. Choose a fresh, firm cauliflower with crisp green leaves. Keep the leaves aside after washing them thoroughly. Cut the cauliflower into big flowers, including about an inch of the stem with each flower). Wash thoroughly and then soak in salt water for about 15 minutes to flush out worms, if any.

2. Heat oil about an inch deep in a frying pan, and deep fry the cauliflower until they turn lightly golden. Place them on kitchen paper to drain the oil thoroughly. If you are using cauliflower leaves, fry them separately for a few seconds in the same oil.

3. Cut the paneer into squares of 1.5 inches and 1/4” thickness. Fry them briefly in very hot oil, until they begin turning light brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon, letting the oil drain out, and keep them in a bowl of cool water.

4. Heat half a cup of vegetable oil in a kadai. When the oil is very hot, add the hing. After a few seconds, add the finely shredded ginger, stir briefly, and then add the jeera (seeds). As they begin browning lightly, add the green chillies. Mix the curds in, and stir briskly till all the moisture has been absorbed.

5. Add half a cup of water and cook for about 2 minutes on a medium fire. Add the cauliflower, the Kasuri Methi, the garam masala, and another half cup of water. Add the paneer, and turn gently with a wooden spatula, so that they absorb the gravy. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the cauliflower are cooked though still crunchy. The gravy should be thick and moist.

NOTE: Peas may be used instead of paneer.

Don Cauleone

Ingredients (to feed 4-6)
1 large cauliflower
2 tbsp tomato pureé
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida)
2 tsp cornflour
1 cup milk
Whole spices
1” dalchini (cinnamon)
5 laung (cloves)
5 elaichi (green cardamom)
5-6 whole black peppers
1 tsp whole jeera
Powdered spices
1.5 tsp Kashmiri red chilly (degi mirchi) powder
1/2 tsp haldi (turmeric)
2 tsp jeera (cummin) powder
2 tsp dhania (coriander) powder
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp garam masala (see recipe for Caulifornia)
Vegetable oil for frying and cooking
Salt to taste

1. Trim the cauliflower, discarding the leaves. Cut the stem, creating a flat base, so that the cauliflower will sit straight. Soak in salt water for 15-20 minutes to flush out any worms and insects. Drain and dry, and then deep fry in about 2 inches deep oil, turning it over carefully so that it browns on all sides.

2. In a pressure cooker, transfer a half cup of the oil in which you fried the cauliflower, and heat it. When it is very hot, add the hing, followed by the whole spices and the jeera. A few seconds later, add the tomato pureé and continue frying till the oil separates from the tomato. Now add the powdered spices and sugar, salt to taste and half a cup of water, and let it come to a boil.

3. Stand the cauliflower upright into the pressure cooker, sprinkle chopped coriander leaves over it, and add a cup of water. Replace the lid and pressure cook for 1 whistle, let it cool, and open it.

4. Make a solution of the cornflour and a little milk, and add it to the gravy, followed by a cup of milk. Stir to thicken the gravy somewhat while bringing it to a boil.

5. To serve, carefully transfer the cauliflower to a dish, and pour the gravy over it. Just before serving, streak the dish with cream and a sprinkle of garam masala (see recipe for Caulifornia).


1. Veena - February 23, 2007

Why have you omitted the Dijon mustard paste from the Caulifornia recipe?

Because frankly, I did not think they would have used Dijon mustard in Kashmir.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Veena —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.



2. Anita - February 27, 2007

OOh…that Caulifornia is so delicious! And you are right about opting out of the Dijon mustard; the mustard oil provides all the zing that Kashmiri cooking needs!

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