Preserve the nutrients of vegetables by cooking them on low heat and with their own steam. Photo: Kriti Saxena
I vividly remember my after-school meals. I would knock off my shoes, throw away my massive bag, run to the kitchen in my parrot green uniform and plant my chin to lean over the kitchen counter. My mom would be busy making hot rotis by the stove, and I could smell the aloo gobhi topped with fresh coriander as I waited for my roti while holding a steel plate. Not much has changed, even today when I get the whiff of my mom’s aloo gobhi, the child in me runs to the kitchen and waits in anticipation for my hot roti.
When I was growing up, my mom would always tell me her little tricks and tips of cooking this vegetable or that as I stood in the kitchen with my plate. "Always cook cauliflower with adrak (ginger)," she would say. "Gobhi and adrak are perfect partners, aloo gobhi can never be made without it." It was my mom who taught me never to add water while making dry preparations, but to cook vegetables slowly in their own steam. This allows the vegetables to release their own flavour. She taught me about the 'perfect partner' of every vegetable that she cooked.
At that time, it never made any sense to me. I never really understood why pumpkin is cooked with methi (fenugreek) seeds or why bhindi was always cooked in panchphoran (a five spice mix), or why it’s necessary to add hing (asafoetida) in cabbage subji. While it’s easy to assume that one flavour compliments the other, the science behind my mother’s cooking was far deeper.
You see my mother grew up at a time when onion, garlic and tomatoes were not that common in Indian cooking. Her grandfather, an Ayurveda doctor had told the women of the house that each vegetable must be cooked keeping mind its digestive properties, and based on which herb or spice would compliment flavour as well as help in digesting the food better. Every vegetable is cooked with a specific type of spice in order to aid its proper digestion and assimilation in the body.
The reason why cauliflower must be cooked with ginger, or a cabbage subji must include hing, is that both vegetables cause flatulence meaning a bloated stomach. To prevent this bloating, we add ginger to cauliflower because the digestive properties of ginger aid in the proper digestion of cauliflower, and prevent you from feeling bloated.
Indian cooking is based on such simple principles that revolve around the nature of ingredients, understanding of digestion and assimilation as well as on geography and climate. Every recipe has science behind it, and every household carries a legacy of cooking styles that maximise flavour and health benefits from an ingredient.
Cauliflower for instance, is a winter vegetable in India and ideally should be eaten in the winter season. It can be paired with ginger, hing or cloves for better digestion. The best way to cook cauliflower is to allow it to cook in its own steam. After sendha namak, or pure Himalayan pink salt is added to the tempered cauliflower, cover the vessel with a fitted lid.
The moisture released by the cauliflower is trapped in the vessel as steam, which cooks the cauliflower while keeping the entire flavour from escaping. You need to have patience, keep the heat as low as possible, not uncover and not add water in a hurry. Check the cauliflower after about 10 minutes, once it is soft turn off the heat.
Here’s my version of mom’s classic aloo gobhi. I hope that you will try it, and let me know if you enjoyed it.
Recipe for Adraki Ghhuti Gobhi aur Lachha Aloo (Serves 2)
This recipe is loaded with herbs, green chillies full of antioxidants and ginger, cumin, bay leaf that aid in better digestion. Grated cauliflower reduces the time of cooking while preserving the taste and nutrition in the vegetable.
2 cups cauliflower, grated
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 tsp Sendha Namak (pink salt)
1 tbsp ghee
1/2 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp chilli powder (optional)
1/4 cup coriander leaves, chopped
1 tsp green chilli, chopped
1/2 cup potato, cut into thin strips
1/2 tsp amchur (dried mango powder)
1. Mix the grated cauliflower and ginger in a bowl with ½ teaspoon sendha namak. Allow them to release their juices.
2. Lightly apply a thin film of ghee on an iron pan and allow it to heat.
3. Roast cumin and bay leaf lightly on the pan until they turn a shade darker.
4. Add in the mixture of cauliflower and ginger along with the moisture in the bowl.
5. Add in turmeric and coriander powder and mix well.
6. Turn the heat as low as possible (keep a heavy bottom pan under the vessel if necessary). Cover the cauliflower vessel with a fitted lid. Allow it to cook for 5 to 7 minutes without opening the lid.
7. After 5 minutes, open the lid and stir. Check if the cauliflower is soft and mushy, entirely cooked through. Add chilli powder if you wish to.
8. Mix in chopped coriander leaves and green chillies into the cauliflower.
Kriti Saxena is a food media consultant. She has worked on food features and lifestyle documentaries in the UK with the likes of Chef Atul Kochhar, Manju Malhi and food expert Glynn Christian. Back home, she has worked as part of the launch team of FoodFood, Masterchef India as well as Executive Producer, recipe developer and researcher for various food shows. Kriti also has a certification in Ayurveda cooking, as well as pursued undergraduate research on Ayurvedic rasas. Her maternal family were 'Vaidya' or Ayurvedic doctors, which helped her mother, and later herself inculcate the knowledge of Ayurveda in cooking.