Although neither the potato nor the cauliflower originally was from India (the potato coming all the way from the Americas while the cauliflower can be traced back to Cyprus), their introduction, and subsequent popularity, by the colonial powers, resulted in the two vegetables being adapted to Indian palate in various forms. The cauliflower, for example, was introduced in 1822 by one Dr. Jemson, who was the then in-charge of the Company Bagh in Saharanpur. The growing period of the cauliflowers were between May and July in England, but given the condition of Indian climate, that plan had to be modified, and local varieties were developed after a considerable amount of thought. The earliest varieties in India of the cauliflower were Early Benares, Main Benares, Early Patna and Main Patna. These varieties got subsequently spread across the subcontinent, and then got adapted as a part of the culinary repertoire of the country.
The cauliflower, for example, in a Bengali household, is a treasure during winters. Cooked into a plethora of vegetarian and fishy recipes, one of the most popular cauliflower recipes is when it is cooked with fresh Bhetki (Barramundi) fish. Other versions include a simple “chhechki” with thin strips of potato and peas, cooked into a slightly soupy “dalna” with potatoes. The ‘phulkopir roast’ is a recipe that indicates primarily to the process of pan-searing the vegetables, a procedure that was a common colonial culinary technique. The recipe here adds potato, but you may leave it off as well and add more cauliflower if you want. It is also without onion and garlic, and often part of the bhog (food offered to the Gods) in many households, including my own.
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How To Make Phulkopi Aloor Roast:
- 500 gm. cauliflower, cut in medium chunks
- 250 gm. potatoes, peeled and cut in one-inch dice
- 100 ml. mustard oil (or any refined, neutral flavored oil)
- half teaspoon whole cumin
- 4 dried red chillies
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 1 inch stick of cinnamon
- 8-9 cloves
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste
- 1 teaspoon green chilli paste
- 150 gm. crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon yogurt, whipped
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
- 1 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- Chopped green chillies or coriander leaves to garnish (optional)
Apply a pinch of turmeric and salt on cauliflower and potatoes. Heat 3/4th part of mustard oil and fry the cauliflower and potato in batches until they are golden-brown. Remove.
Heat the remaining 1/4th part of the oil, then add the whole spices to it. Once the spices splutter, add ginger and green chilli paste. Carefully stir, then tip in the tomatoes. Turn the heat to a simmer, and cook till the tomatoes are cooked well and mushy, and the oil starts separating from it.
Add the coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder, yogurt, red chilli powder and half of the garam masala powder, along with the sugar. Cook till the masala is dark brown in colour, about 3-4 minutes.
Then, add the potatoes and stir that in. Cook for 3-4 minutes, covered and simmered. Add the cauliflower at this point, stir that in, and cook over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, to allow the spices to coat the vegetables and sear. At this point, add a bit of water, to cook vegetables. Add salt to taste, stir that in, and then cover, simmer and cook till the potatoes and cauliflower are soft and the water is mostly dried off.
Sprinkle the ghee and remaining garam masala on top, cover and turn off the heat. Let the spices infuse for 4-5 minutes. Garnish with coriander leaves or chopped green chillies. Serve with roti, luchi or paratha, khichuri or a simple polao.
About Poorna BanerjeePoorna Banerjee is a food writer, restaurant critic and social media strategist and runs a blog Presented by P for the last ten years where she writes about the food she eats and cooks, the places she visits, and the things she finds of interest. She is deeply interested in culinary anthropology, and food history and loves books, music, travelling, and a glass of wine, in that order.