It was late November when I arrived in Rajasthan. A light mist hung over the fields with a glisten of morning dew, signs that winter was on its way. Out in the countryside north of Jaipur the cauliflower harvest was in full swing.
The concierge at the hotel in Samode, a handsome, soft-spoken man by the name of Mr Monty Yadu, kindly offered to take us to visit his family farm to see the harvests. We piled into the hotel jeep and zoomed out of the palace gates, down through the town of Samode and on to the valley floor. About 5km down the main road we turned down a narrow, rutted driveway. Women in vivid red and orange saris and colourful chunri headcloths were building giant towers of glorious white cauliflowers, arranging them atop huge squares of brightly coloured fabric, ready to bundle up for the market.
We walked around the farm, inspecting the new season garlic shoots and all manner of salad greens and herbs. Monty started picking cauliflowers, pulling off orbs of their pearly white heads for us to snack on. "All organic. Aren't they delicious? We will have for lunch, you must stay." The florets were so sweet and tender you could eat them like apples.
We arrived at a large earth-floored open central courtyard, where a beautiful young woman with long, shiny dark hair and sparkling almond eyes was busy cooking over a gas burner off to one corner of the courtyard under a small wooden awning. "This is my wife," said Monty, "she's making our dal." Out in the middle of the courtyard, two other women were starting to prepare lunch for their families, lighting their fires with bundles of small twigs on the bare earth, and cutting fat wads of fresh fenugreek leaves and other greens through a scythe mounted upright on a block of wood.
In just 20 minutes we were sitting down to an extraordinary feast – tender millet flatbreads that were quickly mixed and cooked in a flat pan (it's too hot to grow wheat there, so millet is the primary grain), the creamy mixed lentil dal that had been simmering when we arrived and the most fragrant and flavoursome cauliflower curry that was cooked from scratch in just 10 minutes.
We sat in the courtyard to eat this simple-yet-incredibly delicious feast, the perfect balance of flavours and textures, moreish and so satisfying, yet surprisingly light. The deftness that had conjured this meal — from just a handful of ingredients with a pinch or a handful of this and that spice — was like some kind of magician's sleight of hand.
As winter sets in and you find yourself craving the comfort of a hefty meat pie, a big pot of mac 'n' cheese, or some other heavy rib-sticking fare, spices are your saviour. Bring them into your cooking to achieve satisfying layered flavours in dishes that deliver comfort and satisfaction without the stodge factor.
This dry, richly flavoured curry comes from Southern India. It can be made with any seasonal vegetables, as available.
Ready in 45 minutes
2 Tbsp oil
5 green chillies, chopped, fresh or frozen
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of turmeric
1 tbsp curry leaves (optional)
1 large potato, cut in 2cm pieces
1 large carrot, cut in 2cm pieces
2 eggplants, cut into small pieces
1 cup each coconut cream and water
A handful of green beans, thinly sliced (optional)
½ head cauliflower or 1 head broccoli cut into florets or ¼ small cabbage, thinly sliced
2 courgettes, or 6-8 okra, diced (optional)
1 unripe banana, peeled and sliced
2 tsp garam masala
½ cup natural yoghurt
Salt and fine black pepper
Chopped coriander leaves, to garnish
Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and fry the chillies, coconut, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric and curry leaves (if using) over a low heat for 1-2 minutes.
Add the potatoes, carrots, eggplant, coconut cream and water. Cover and cook gently for 10 minutes. Place the cauliflower/broccoli/cabbage and courgettes (if using) in a bowl, cover with boiling water and stand for 1 minute. Drain before adding to pan.
Add okra and green beans (if using) and banana and cook uncovered for another 5-10 minutes until pan is dryish and vegetables are tender. Add a little water if needed. Mix the garam masala with yoghurt. Stir into curry and season to taste. Garnish with the coriander.
Traditionally the spinach is cooked with the meat. However, for a greener, fresher colour, add it right at the end of cooking.
Ready in 1 hour
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a buffet dish
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled
6 cloves garlic, peeled
3 onions, peeled
2 dry red chillies
500g spinach, washed and trimmed
3 Tbsp neutral oil
800g-1kg lean lamb, cubed
2 bay leaves
3 whole cardamoms
6 whole cloves
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp salt
½ cup unsweetened yoghurt
In a food processor, puree the ginger, garlic, onions and chillies to form a paste. Place the spinach in a colander and pour over boiling water to wilt. Cool, squeeze dry and puree or finely chop.
Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan. Brown the meat in batches and put to one side. Add the bay leaves, cardamoms, cloves, mustard seeds and cinnamon stick. Cook for 2 minutes.
Mix in the onion paste and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the spinach puree, water and browned meat. Cover and cook over the lowest heat for 1½ hours until the meat is tender and a thick, dark green gravy has formed. Stir occasionally.
Stir in the yoghurt. Remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Freezes well.
The gravy for this cauliflower and chickpea curry can be used to make a variety of different vegetable curries such as eggplant, courgette and pumpkin.
Ready in 40 minutes
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 400g can crushed tomatoes
1 green chilli, roughly chopped
3 Tbsp neutral oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½-1 tsp chilli powder, or to taste
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp asafoetida/hing (optional)
½ cup water
1 whole head cauliflower, cut into florets
½ cup fresh coriander leaves, torn
In a blender, whizz onion, garlic, tomatoes and chilli (this is called the gravy). Heat the oil and cook cumin seeds until they start to sizzle, add drained chickpeas and cook, stirring over a medium heat, until just fragrant, about a minute.
Add gravy to pan with chilli powder, coriander, garam masala, salt, turmeric and asafoetida, if using, with water. Simmer over a medium heat until the oil starts to come to the top of the sauce – about 10-15 minutes.
Add chopped cauliflower, stir to combine with the gravy and cover. Cook until cauliflower is just tender, around 10 minutes. Check seasonings, stir through fresh coriander to serve.
Match these with ...
by Yvonne Lorkin
Blackenbrook Nelson Gewurztraminer 2021 ($23)
My number one wine choice for curry of any persuasion is always a glass of glorious gewurztraminer. And if you're looking for a fragrant and fancy example, this is your ticket to a grin. Ginger, citrus zest, lychee, toffee notes and taut tropical fruit on the finish - it's crunchy-fresh and fabulous. Ex-chemist-microbiologist Daniel Schwarzenbach and his wife Ursula craft this delicious thing from a 20ha vineyard in Nelson's Moutere district, in a small, gravity-fed winery. It wraps itself around Annabel's Avial in spectacular fashion. Blackenbrook.co.nz
Dry River Lovat Vineyard Martinborough Gewurztraminer 2020 ($55)
Good lamb saag is my favourite curry. Absolute truth. To me it's a super-classic dish and deserves a wine to match. There's only one gewurztraminer in New Zealand that's hit "super classic" status and continues to outshine the competition, and it's this. Crafted by the Gandalf of gewurztraminer, Wilco Lam, from fruit grown at Lovat vineyard (planted in 1992 and famous for producing aristocratic, aromatic wines), it's an exercise in restraint, style, and balance. Silky and lithe, with nectarine and ginger-spice flavours, it also boasts a gently oily texture extending its finely balanced, marathon finish.
Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Gewurztraminer 2020 ($27)
Wow - wow - wow. This is one heck of a sensory overload of certified organic, aromatic excellence. Erupting with apple strudel spices, luscious lychee layers and florals up the wahzoo, it's incredibly succulent and saturated with exotic tropical fruit flavours, fleshy, fresh acidity and mouthfilling richness. The finish is long and juicy and it's an excellent thing to cuddle up to spicy cauliflower and chickpeas.