The nature of my daddy’s work was such that he would be transferred very often from place to place. This gave us exposure to the customs, culture and cuisines of nearly all parts of India. I have the almost unique distinction of having studied in nearly twelve schools if you count montessori. Like most children of parents’ who hold transferable jobs, I passed my entire student life shuttling from one school to another in different states. The experience enriched my life beyond words as we underwent practical lessons in adaptations and adjusting to new surroundings. The most valuable lesson I learnt was that change is the only constant. Another positive thing that came out of the constant move was that I learned to cherish people, moments and memories at a very young age. So much that my memories are organized into neat little folders. Each folder is etched with the year and the place my father was stationed in and contains vivid visuals of the time spent there.
Today’s folder is from Jabalpur. This one opens up almost always whenever I cook cauliflower in the winters – not the small, loosely packed flower but the larger, juicier, tightly packed variety, and my curry seems all the more tasty then. Because of the extreme winters I always loved North India more than the South and at Jabalpur I had the joy of receiving the best of both worlds. Madhya Pradesh is located in Central India and enjoys the cool winters of the North and is geographically and culturally a little closer to the South. Jabalpur was then a small town. As adolescents our world generally tends to limit itself to our peer group. I always thought Jabalpur consisted of just two colonies. One was the Cantonment / Defence areas and the other was the Heavy Vehicles Factory township. Since my friends only comprised of girls and boys from army background and since we did not really venture to town I wasn’t aware at that time of the thriving civilian population in Jabalpur. We did know that almost 15% of Jabalpuris were made up of African and Iranian students. They were the rich lot. It is only of late that I have realized that my world was small, confined and overly secure.
Our quarters in Jabalpur was a large bungalow – a remnant of the British era with all of the ‘saheb’ fanfare kept alive by sprawling lawns in the areas surrounding the bungalow, and a plethora of domestic helpers. My father had a keen interest in gardening and the lawns gave him a chance to indulge in this hobby. We grew a variety of vegetables in the backyard – cauliflowers, radish, carrots, different tubers, beans as well as lovely flowers such as balsams, clock vines, crested cockscomb, periwinkles, peace lilies, dahlias, chrysanthemums, gerberas and so many more that I could not identify. The garden was tended to by our maali with tender love. I remember him picking flowers every morning and making beautiful bouquets for the vases in the living room. On the days he wasn’t available I would make them.
During the season of potato harvest my mother used to clean up one part of one of the extra rooms and store small hillocks of potatoes. The baby potatoes took up lesser space and were used up in making tandoori aloos which we consumed with gusto. A major part would be distributed amongst the helpers. The season I loved most was winter when we would sit in the backyard or the front garden soaking up the warmth of the morning sun, and wearing colourful hand-knitted sweaters, scarfs and caps. Cauliflowers grew by the dozen during winter and covered the garden in neat chequered pattern. We would look up the garden everyday to sight these beautiful clouds of cotton dressed in layered gowns of green leaves. It was a sight to behold. Winter meant an overdose of cauliflower in the form of aloo-gobi rasedar, aloo-gobi sukha (dry) or gobi parathas almost every other day. It’s a wonder I did not tire of it, and actually relish it so much even now. I do try not to add potatoes and tomatoes most of the time. One way I love cauliflowers is tandoori gobi, and this too is a leaf from my Jabalpur days.
Coming to this post, I had these snaps in my pictures folder for a very long time. It seemed too simple to be accorded space but then as the above thoughts and memories bombarded my mind I realized that they do need a special post because the dish is very special to me. This is how I make it most days.
The addition of peas complements the sweetness and the juice blends with that of the cauliflowers very well. The cauliflower in turn soaks up the flavour of the dhania powder and amchoor. When you bite into the flowerets you can taste the juice and the other spices all at the same time.
Recipe: Cauliflower and green peas dry curry – Gobi Matar ki sukhi subzi
Serves: 3 portions
Cauliflower – 1kg
(Break into small flowerets and keep the stalk aside – you can use it up in the parathas)
Peas – 1/2 cup
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp.
Carom seeds – 1 tsp. (Do not omit this – they have a lovely flavor)
Fennel seeds – 1/4 tsp.
Freshly pounded coriander powder – 1.5tsp.
Freshly pounded cumin seed powder – 1/4tsp.
Turmeric powder – 1/4tsp.
Chilli powder – To taste
(keep it a little high as the sweetness of peas and cauliflower will supress the zing)
Dry mango powder – 1/8tsp. or more as per taste.
Dry fenugreek leaves (Kasuri methi) – 1 tsp. (optional)
Coriander – chopped rough – 1tbsp.
Mustard oil – 2tbsp.
Heat oil in a wide wok to smoking hot and put off flame. Heat again to medium hot and crackle cumin, carom and fennel seeds.
Add the cleaned, washed and drained flowerets and mix well. Add 1/2 of the total salt needed. Cover and cook on medium flame stirring every once in a while so that cauliflower sweats and gets half cooked.
Now add the peas and cover and cook till done to a bite. Add the spice powders, adjust salt and saute well till the powders are incorporated evenly.
Add the kasuri methi and saute for another minute. The vegetable should be completely dry and the flowerets a little brown.
The burnt ones taste very good! Great with rotis and rice.
One kg of cauliflower after discarding stalks and reduction in quantity will not serve more than three people. That said, even if I did make more I would only find an empty bowl because both Jr.H and Jr.P love to eat this by itself.