Good afternoon from vacation. We don’t need to talk about it. If you told me you were on a sunny beach with fine white silky sand between your toes, fluffy aqua waves lapping at the edges, palm trees swishing back and forth, scooping aquachiles onto tortilla chips and marveling at the range of available papaya hues while I was shoveling out snow for the nth time this year, I would smile politely and comment “How amazing!” on your Instagram but I would silently pout, as I probably will be a week from now. Let’s… not.
A week or so before I left, because the treadmill seems as good a place as any to think about what you want to eat next, I was overwhelmed with a craving for cauliflower cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. Gobi matar masala (cauliflower, peas, spices) is a a classic vegan North Indian recipe that fit the bill; the dotting of sweet peas adds is wonderfully complementary. When I came home and started looking through books and websites for recipes I realized that it’s more often a dry curry, made with a few tomatoes but most of the liquid evaporates, leaving a more concentrated mixture. The first time, I made it this way and it was fantastic, but my craving for a saucier version — more of a sabzi, if I understand correctly — remained. A friend confirmed that, like most traditional dishes, there’s no one agreed-upon way to make it and some days you may want it to be more of a stew than others. Feeling liberated, the next time I made it, I added a few cups of canned tomato puree and it was exactly what I’d hoped for. We ate it with rice but it would also be delicious with chapati, roti, or another flatbread.
There’s a lot of flexibility here. You can keep the cauliflower more crisp or let it relax more in the masala, depending on your preference. You can use more or less tomatoes, depending on how saucy you want the dish. You can crank up the heat with more chiles or chile powder; my kids aren’t quite there (yet!). And if you’re missing a single spice, I wouldn’t sweat it. I took note of some of the most common spices used but then went recipe-free, just cooking and adjusting to taste (and jotting everything down, dutiful food blogger that I am). It was cozy and unheavy and perfect; I froze the leftovers and can’t wait to have at least one meal all squared away when we get home.
Cauliflower and Tomato Masala with Peas (Gobi Matar)
- 1 large head cauliflower (3 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon finely grated garlic (about 2 cloves)
- 1 jalapeño or another green chile, finely chopped (use more or less to taste)
- 1 big handful fresh cilantro, stems finely chopped, leaves roughly torn
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 to 1 teaspoon mild red chili powder (I used kashmiri), adjusted to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 to 3 cups tomato puree from a 28-ounce can
- 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 cup green peas, frozen is fine
- 1/2 teaspoon amchur (dried mango) powder or juice of half a lemon
- Rice or flatbreads, to serve
Then, in a large, deep sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Once hot, add cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, and jalapeño and cook together for 3 minutes, until tender but the garlic and ginger are not browned. Add diced cauliflower core and finely chopped cilantro stems (save leaves for the end) and cook for another 1 minute together. Add turmeric, chili powder, coriander, and garam masala and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 to 3 cups tomato puree — use the smaller amount if your cauliflower clocks in in the 2 to 2.5-pound range, or if you’re not sure you want dish as saucy as mine is, plus salt (1 1/2 teaspoons was just right for my 3 cups puree), and water and bring to a simmer, cook for 5 minutes. Add cauliflower and stir to coat with sauce. Cover with a lid and cook for about 20 minutes, until cauliflower is tender but not mushy, stirring occasionally. Add peas (still frozen are fine) and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until heated through. Add amchur powder or lemon juice and stir to warm through. Taste dish for seasoning and adjust to taste. Finish with cilantro leaves. Serve with rice or flatbread.