Sometimes my tiny toddler clambers into his dad’s lap at dinner time and proceeds to messily eat everything on the plate, small fingers moving busily from table to mouth, with a look of intense concentration on his face. This, in spite of having finished his own dinner just an hour ago. During such moments, I have an overwhelming sense that I must be doing something right. My cooking has satisfied this small but very particular critic. From the entire being-a-perfect-parent spectrum, I have decided that all I want to do is give my son two things, a lifelong love of learning and a love of good food. As I watch him eating, still surprised that he can actually feed himself out of hunger, curiosity or whatever it may be, it seems to me that Agastya seems to especially relish the gobi or cauliflower stir-fry. Can it really be that we both suddenly agree on what defines a good food?
The gobi dish has been arrived at after a long while of wondering what I can do with a cauliflower to make it edible, let alone make it taste like an authentic Indian sabji. It’s also meant getting over my fear of the cauliflower. I have realized that just staring at the heads of cauliflower at the market and timidly considering possibilities will not do. The first step is to bring home a bright white cauliflower with tightly packed florets, unwrap it and then ruthlessly remove all the greens and chop off a large piece of the stem near the head so that most of the florets are left with thinner, tender stems. Discard all the green and white foliage over the counter before the mess threatens to overwhelm. Then chop into bite-sized florets. The satisfying abundance of cauliflower florets can now be put in a colander and washed. The cooking possibilities then present themselves. In the past, I have tried boiling the cauliflower in hot water, steaming the florets, even microwaving the entire head before stir frying, but all of these have tended to kill the flavor of the cauliflower.
Simply heating a few tablespoons of oil in a pan and covering and cooking the chopped cauliflower florets on medium heat until soft, stirring occasionally to ensure that the cauliflower doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, with a generous pinch of turmeric and salt, can yield a bland, but fairly tasty gobi dish. The recipe can be be varied to add some grated ginger in the beginning, or long chopped onions cooked until they are brown, or even a green chilli or two, split down the middle, or any combination of the three. A sprinkling of coriander powder, cumin powder and amchur at the end adds another layer of flavor. A raw medium-sized white or yellow potato with its peel, cut into thin slices and cooked with the cauliflower, adds a delicious rustic flavor to the dish. Alternatively, a half cupful of green peas can be thrown in midway through the cooking to make gobi matar.