I believe cooking is all about planning--get the things you need and then get dinner on the table. I'm not one of those people who has to run out in the middle of making a dish to get an ingredient. I keep my larder stocked with everything from anchovies (for the quick puttanesca) to zucchini (at least during the summer).
I draw up the week's menu before going shopping. I do my prep work in the morning so dinner is easy to make in the evening. I keep bolognese and chicken soup and dhal in the freezer.
Sometimes, though, my plans go awry. I was set to make aloo gobi, a traditional Indian dish mixing potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi) for dinner this evening. We had a birthday party to go to this afternoon, and if I could get it done before we went out, it would be ready for dinner when we returned.
My plan fell apart when I decided to nap instead of cook. What can I say? It's impossibly hard for me to resist a little siesta on a Sunday afternoon. Or a Saturday afternoon, for that matter. (I swear, if I had a private office, I would nap during the workweek, too; Churchill, Edison, and Da Vinci were reportedly ardent nappers, so I would be in good company).
When we returned from the party, I was hungry and the mad dash was on to get dinner ready. I was pairing the dish with salmon because I need protein with every meal. The kids had gorged themselves on brownies and ice cream at the party, so I wasn't concerned about them needing more calories (nutrients are another story). I cooked salmon filets, which they both like, and didn't expect them to eat the aloo gobi, even though they like potatoes, cauliflower, and Indian spices (they gobbled up leftover take-out chicken tikka asala for lunch).
I discovered another hole in my plan: I was missing a key ingredient. We were out of ground cumin. I couldn't believe it. My vaunted spice rack was letting me down. Where was my full larder when I needed it? Fortunately, I had cumin seeds on hand, so I ground them up, but not after a frantic search for the spice grinder, which I hadn't used in a year or so.
Eventually, I got my ingredients assembled and made the dish. Though it's only the second time I've made it, I found it very fast and easy. It is very delicious, too.
Santa Maria, who has spent time in Benares, Calcutta, Poona, and Rajastan, loves my aloo gobi. It's not really mine, of course. I wouldn't have thought this up in a thousand years. The recipe comes from my friend Paul, a master chef and father who is always amazing me with the multi-dish feasts he serves up. I first had the aloo gobi at his house. He got the recipe from one of Julie Sahni's cookbooks.
The best thing about the recipe is its simplicity. Indian food is not known for being easy to make. Santa Maria always says that it's a cuisine built on having a house staffed with servants. This version is quite within the reach of the single-handed man, and quiet rewarding.
In the end, the kids didn't eat it, but Nina picked out the whole cumin seeds and crushed them between her front teeth. That's a start, I guess.
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into 1 inch florets
- 3 potatoes, cut into small cubes
- 1 twenty-eight ounce can of peeled tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin powder
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 2 tsp. coriander
- 1 dash cayenne pepper
- 1 cup boiling water
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large pan.
When it is smoking, add the cumin seeds and cook for about twenty seconds.
Add the remaining spices and then the potatoes and cauliflower.
Stir to coat the vegetables with the spices.
Add the tomatoes and the water and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about twenty minutes.
Add the peas and cook until they are defrosted.
Serve and garnish with chopped cilantro.