(Traveller’s lunch is a collection of recipes inspired by my visits to different cities
and restaurants around the country)
Couple of months back I visited the Dudhsagar Spice plantation in Goa and the nature baby in me was at home (in fact, I began dreaming of my own farm!) Growing organically in the Mollem National Park, this beautiful farmstead and plantation is a couple of hours (scenic) drive from Margao. So it was decided that their afternoon spice tour was a must during a recent vacation in Goa with the familia. The tour takes an hour or so, followed by a homely, rural-style lunch. Since we were coming from far, we wanted to spend some time post-lunch too and the owner, Mr Ajit, obliged graciously.
We got a guided tour from the owner’s son Ashok – who, like his father, shares a clear passion for their local heritage and roots. As he led us in the trail, we were shown their (plentiful) organic pepper plants (they grow as creepers wrapped around betel nut trees). We walked around couple of passion fruit trees (with no ripe fruit at that moment, alas); saw ginger and turmeric plants; there were some beautiful cardamon blooms; witnessed some terribly tiny chilli pepper (but extremely hot nonetheless) and couple of vanilla plants, which Ashok has been trying to grow with little success (don’t give up buddy!) But I have to give a separate sentence for the cinnamon tree at their farm. That aromatic bay leaf, of which we were generously given a whiff of, will forever be the benchmark by which I will judge all bay leaves in the future. And I highly doubt it will ever come close (this is why I want to live in a farm!)
Now to the part that inspired this dish. Mr. Ajit, who cooked the lunch, made this simple, no-pretend, cauliflower sabzi. It was mildly flavoured (to suit their foreign guests at the stay) and seemed to use limited ingredients. I for one completely enjoyed the village-style meal that also included rotis, dal, rice, pickle and kokam sherbet. The meal, with the use of locally produced ingredients, is basically an invitation into the life of the local villagers – a form of communion with the land and its people. I was convinced I had to recreate that sabzi and what better way to do that than use the peppercorns and ghee/coconut oil I purchased from the farm itself.
And thus was born this homage of a dish. I wanted the simplicity, in ingredients and flavour, to shine through. We often associate Indian food with the use of unending spices and blends but it doesn’t necessarily have to be so; especially for a weekday meal where you don’t want to be a wannabe Michelin-star chef who wants to make everything by scratch. You just want to whip out a quick wholesome meal with supplies readily available in your pantry. And this is exactly that kind of dish!
Not only does this dish demand very little from your pantry, it is also kind on your time and strength. While the oven cooks the cauliflower florets and gives it a good roast flavour, the made-in-seconds tadka and the final drizzle of fresh coconut milk is the perfect finishing touch – all done without breaking a sweat.
So go ahead and have a no-frills weekday, and maybe plan a farmstay-style vacation sometime soon?
- 1 cauliflower head (more than 500gms)
- 2-3tbsp whole peppercorns, roughly crushed
- 4tbsp ghee or coconut oil
- Salt to season
- 1cup freshly pressed coconut milk (200ml), at room temperature
- 2tbsp ghee or coconut oil
- 1tsp mustard seeds
- 1stalk of curry leaves, roughly chopped
- 2-3 dry red chillies, cut in half
- Preheat the oven at 180 degree Celsius for 10-15minutes. Chop the cauliflower into small bite size chunks and transfer them into a baking pan. Mix in the ghee and pepper until the cauliflower florets are well coated. Season with some salt. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes.
- After the 20min timer, shift the pan to the top rack of the oven and bake for another 10-15minutes. This will give the cauliflower some char.
- Meanwhile, prepare the tempering (tadka); in a small kadai (meant for tempering) or a saucepan (big enough for the cauliflower) heat the ghee on a medium-low flame. Once the ghee is hot, add the mustard seeds, dry red chillies and chopped curry leaves. Let it sizzle for a few seconds (without burning) and then take it off the heat.
- In the same saucepan (or in a serving dish), mix in the roasted cauliflower and tadka. Deglaze the baking pan with some coconut milk and transfer the liquid into the dish. Add the remaining coconut milk to the dish. Gently mix until the florets are coated in the tadka and coconut milk.
- Serve with steamed coconut rice (or rotis), roasted papads and spiced kokam sherbet.