The one thing I always say about Indian cuisine is that it’s one of the only that takes vegetables – like this cauliflower – and places them center stage without ever skipping a beat. Growing up, I rarely ate meat. At home, it was typically Vegetarian Indian at every meal. When we protested, my mother would either make spaghetti spiked with cumin seeds or my father would take us to the Burger King a little north on Route 202 in our town of King of Prussia, PA. It took me years to realize that I would eat the whopper junior, but it was the fries that I really wanted. Meat just didn’t really do it for me.
It wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation as happens in other homes outside of the Indian community because with a vegetarian mother and Hindu culture that places the emphasis on rice, beans, and curried vegetables, it all seemed natural. And it still does.
In our home now, even though my husband does eat meat, when I make vegetarian and/or vegan, everyone still absolutely loves it. No one protests because Indians know how to spice and prep vegetables to the point that they will just sing on your plate.
Gobi Mussallam is one such dish that is dressed to impress. Make it for your next dinner party, and I guarantee that you will be the talk of the town for weeks. It’s at once simple and impressive at the same time – my kind of dish. Mussallam means whole and it implies that your cauliflower is prepped and cooked intact. You first steam or boil it and then let bake the curried sauce in even more by putting the whole thing in the oven – a typical Mughlai-style of cooking, perfected in the Imperial kitchens of the Mughal empire.
This style of cooking – taking the flavors to another level by baking – is a style that emerged from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where a style of cooking called Awadhi took hold in the capital city of Lucknow. The cuisine in this area is what gave birth to the dum style of cooking – basically cooking for long hours over a low flame. (Sound familiar? The modern-day slow cooker works the same way…i.e. my first book, The Indian Slow Cooker!)
¼ cup raw cashews|
¼ cup golden raisins
1 medium yellow or red onion, roughly chopped (1 cup)
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
10 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons oil (I use grapeseed)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
4 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
2 black cardamom pods
2 tablespoons butter
4 medium tomatoes, diced (2 cups)
2 cups water (preferably boiled), divided
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon coriander powder
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon red chile pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 small Thai, Serrano, or cayenne chile, stem removed and finely sliced (1/2 teaspoon)
¼ cup cream
1 large head of cauliflower (about 6 inches in diameter), keep the bottom base of greens and stalk intact
10 black peppercorn, crushed
5 whole cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
5 large bay leaves
14 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
1. Place cashews and raisins in separate bowls and immerse in hot, boiling water to soak as you prep your remaining ingredients.
2. Position your baking rack on the second-from-top position, and pre-heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. In a food processor grind onion, ginger, and garlic. You’ll have a heaping 2/3 cup of the watery paste.
4. Heat oil in a 4-quart sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add cumin and green and black cardamom pods. Heat until the seeds pop, about 40 seconds.
5. Very, very carefully add the onion-ginger-garlic paste. Keep a lid handy in case the mixture pops out of the pan. Cook until the mixture browns, about 3 minutes. Be sure to mix it occasionally so that it does not stick to the pan.
6. Add butter and cook another minute, mixing.
7. Add tomatoes and cook about 2 minutes until the tomatoes start to break down. Add 1 cup of boiling water and continue to cook another minute. Of course you can use water that is room temperature, but that will bring the cooking temperature down. I love my electric kettle and keep it close when adding water to curries.
8. Add drained cashews, garam masala, coriander, salt, red chile, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down and simmer about 7 minutes until the tomatoes completely break down and the mixture comes together. If the mixture thickens too much, add a tiny bit of water. Be careful not to add too much, as the sauce will become too watery later when you bake it.
9. Take out black cardamom pods and the skin of the green if possible. No problem if you can’t find all of the green cardamom skin, as it will get blended down and just add flavor to your dish.
10. Transfer the mixture to a blender or Vita-Mix and blend until completely smooth. I always use a little water to clean out the bottom of the blender and get every last bit of the curry.
11. Return the sauce to your pan, add drained raisins, green chiles, and cream. Heat through. Set aside until you cook the cauliflower.
12. Place cauliflower upside down (stalk facing up) in a 10-quart stockpot. Add turmeric, salt, bay leaves, peppercorn, cloves, and 14 cups water. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down and simmer 10 – 12 minutes. I like my cauliflower al dente. If you want it softer, by all means, cook it a little longer. By turning the cauliflower upside down the edible parts all get cooked perfectly. Test your cauliflower’s softness with a fork before removing. Alternatively, you can also steam your cauliflower.
13. Carefully remove cauliflower from pot. Drain it, and place it in a 2-quart ovenproof dish. The key is to put it in a dish just big enough to hold it. If the dish is too large, then your topping will eventually dry out after baking. I like the turmeric soaked in, but if you really want the cauliflower to stay white, omit the turmeric and add a little milk to the boiling water.
14. Take your sauce and carefully pour all but one cup over your cauliflower. Be sure to coat the entire vegetable. Bake in oven for 15 minutes until all the flavors have a chance to soak into the cauliflower. Pull it out, scoop the sauce from the sides, put it over your cauliflower, and cook another 5 minutes.
15. Take your dish out, pour the remaining cup of the sauce (heat first if you need to) over the dish to spruce it up a bit, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve immediately. I like to place the whole cauliflower on a platter surrounded by basmati rice so that everyone can easily serve herself and make a meal out of it. You can also serve with roti or naan and cut it into wedges.
Tools: You’ll need a 4-quart sauté pan, blender or Vita Mix, and a 2-quart ovenproof dish.
Vegan-ize it! Replace butter with Earth Balance spread and the cream with coconut milk creamer. You can also leave the cream out entirely, as your cashews will give you enough creaminess.
Serves 4 – 6
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