“I can’t run in the Turkey Trot”, my 7 year old daughter looked up at me, anxiety writ all over her chubby face. She was referring to the annual Thanksgiving race, when hundreds of children were released from elementary school to run around the field and loop through the nearby woods.
“Why ever not?”
“The winner takes home a turkey. But we’re vegetarians!”
I looked down at her stubby legs, encased in the impossibly cheery stripes of Hanna Andersson leggings. For the first (possibly the last) time, I was less than brutally honest about my children’s abilities, or lack thereof. Hiding a smile, I assured her that if she won, we would donate the turkey to the local Food Pantry so the poor would not go hungry. She was so relieved that I resolved to make as grand a stuffed non-turkey as I could. Since that Thanksgiving, many years ago, I’ve perfected the stuffed cauliflower, based loosely on Julie Sahni’s recipe from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking.
Are you a vegan/vegetarian or do you have a persnickety vegetarian guest coming to dinner? Take it from me, stuffing cooked inside a turkey breast won’t cut it with your vegetarian sister-in-law or your liberal arts college-going nephew. Do you want an attention-grabbing vegetable side dish, a cut above green beans and almonds? Do you like the over-the-top spices of Indian food? If you answered yes to any of these, give this a try.
Part I: Parboil the cauliflower head
- Trim the leaves and stalk of the cauliflower so that the head can stand evenly. In a pot of cold water, immerse the cauliflower and bring it to a boil. Cook for another 5-8 minutes, turning it once so both sides are partly cooked. Do not overcook or let it get mushy. Remove gently and let drain.
Part II: Make the stuffing
- Finely chop one medium onion, an inch of ginger and 1-2 cloves of garlic. The triumvirate of northern Indian cooking. Add to a tbs of oil in a pan, and sauté on medium heat until the onions are golden.
- Meanwhile, gather the following ground spices or blend whole spices in a spice mill/clean coffee grinder for a fresher taste: 1 tbs each of fennel and coriander seeds, 0.5 tbs of cumin, a few pepper corns (or freshly ground pepper). Folks, I hope you realize that these quantities are figments of my imagination. I don’t measure spices, and I forget how much I used.
- Coarsely chop in a food processor, a blend of nuts and dried fruits. I used “Nantucket blend” by Nature’s Own of pistachios, almonds, cranberries, cherries and raisins.
- Add spices and nut mix to onions in pan. Add a tbs of white flour, a big pinch of turmeric, a pinch of cayenne, salt to taste and continue cooking on low heat until the whole thing comes together in one harmonious lump.
Part III: Stuff the cauliflower
- When the stuffing and cauliflower are cool enough to handle (or not), begin to stuff the spice paste into all the nooks and crannies, starting with the underside of the head. You will be able to get a surprising amount in. If you accidentally break off a floret, use the paste to surgically glue it back in. Trust me, if I could fake my neurology dissections in college, this is easy. Spread the remainder on the top of the cauliflower.
- Place the cauliflower in a baking dish. Dot the surface with cashew halves. You can insert whole cloves into the cauliflower if you wish, or perhaps a couple star anise. Drizzle some vegetable oil over the head.
- Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 20-30 min. until the surface looks golden brown and crisp.
Part IV: Make the sauce
- Slice half an onion into long strips, and add to it some minced ginger and garlic. To a tbs of hot oil in a pan, add whole spices. I used cloves, pepper corns, bay leaf, cumin and fennel.
- Add tomato puree or crushed tomatoes from one can. Or fresh. Add some bright green peas for color and contrast. If you want, add a splash of cream (I use the light version) at the end.
That’s it! Assemble the cauliflower with the sauce. Slice at the table.
I served it with basmati/wild rice pulao topped with slivered, fried onions. The black leaching from the wild rice made for interesting color.