Calcutta Cauliflower

The Chinese immigrant community in India started centuries ago when a few thousand Chinese migrated to Calcutta, which now boasts a large and possibly the only China town in India. Over time, a new cuisine emerged in Calcutta using Chinese seasoning and cooking techniques combined with fragrant Indian spices. It offered denizens a larger variety of dishes, particularly for vegetarians. Peanut sauce is arguably one of the best examples of this ancient culinary pairing. Today Chinese-Indian cuisine is an integral part of the food scene in India, from the restaurants to street vendors, and the relationship gives locals and diners a reminder of the rich history between two ancient cuisines. Be prepared to fall in love with the peanut sauce in this recipe — it’s good on almost everything! It was one of the mainstays of my parenting days. I could get my kids to eat all kinds of vegetables paired with it. Currently, the farmers markets in Houston have tables laden with beautiful heads of snowy cauliflower. Simple to cook and low in calories yet rich in nutrients and vitamins, cauliflower is perhaps best and simplest to prepare via oven roasting to achieve a distinct caramel color. The finish with amchur (dried mango powder) gives it a glorious tang — an excellent complement to the peanut-sauce-topped cauliflower.

makes ~4-6 servings

ingredients

1 head medium-size cauliflower

Salt

Pinch of turmeric

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoon amchur

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

PEANUT SAUCE

½ cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)

2/3 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons unpeeled freshly grated ginger

2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey (see note)

1 teaspoon red chili sauce

 

instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the cauliflower into thick slices or florets, using all the leaves and stems (the only inedible part is a small 2-inch piece at the base). Lay them flat on a baking sheet and sprinkle both sides with 1 teaspoon of salt and pinch of turmeric. Drizzle olive oil and roast cauliflower in the oven for 20-30 minutes, flipping midway or until the cauliflower is a deep golden brown and cooked through. Sprinkle generously with amchur and chopped cilantro while still hot.

  2. To make the peanut sauce, combine the peanut butter, orange juice, ginger, soy sauce, honey (if needed), chili sauce and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. As soon as the sauce is smooth, turn the heat off. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

ideas / variations

  • I prefer the sweet ABC brand Kecap Manis soy sauce, available at most large grocery stores in the international section. If using regular soy sauce, add 2 tablespoons of honey to the sauce, and you may not need any additional salt.

  • The chili sauce of choice here is called sambal oelek, available at most large grocery stores. However, feel free to substitute it with a teaspoon of red chili powder.

  • If you’re not a fan of peanut butter, use almond or cashew butter. The sauce is amazing with either.

  • The peanut sauce will keep for at least 2-3 weeks in your refrigerator and makes a lovely sauce for roasted chicken or other vegetables.

  • Amchur, a little-known spice, is sundried mango from India. It imparts a delicious and deep acidic note to food and is available at most Indian grocery stores. If you do not have amchur, squeeze a lime or lemon on the cauliflower.