In yesterday’s blog, I asked you all to send in a story behind your favourite home-cooked meal. It’s hard to narrow down my favourite – but my nanima’s aloo gobi is definitely one of them. It’s very special to me because it’s a recipe which connects generations in my maternal family. My late nanaji (grandfather) was a real aloo gobi connoisseur. He taught his signature dish to my mum, who has been making it for my family for years. My nanima (nan) would always cook to his fussy standards and she was the one who taught me how to cook it. My nanaji used to say that there is a real art to making aloo gobi and I still follow his criteria: well-spiced potatoes and cauliflower; a good helping of ginger; soft, but not soggy or mashed cauliflower florets and potatoes. This last criteria was essential – the cauliflower florets had to be visible as florets or kadi kadi (punjabi for stood up) as nanaji would say. My nanaji would always enjoy his meals sat cross-legged on the floor, by the fireplace with his tray. I would ask my nanima: “Why does nanaji always sit over there when we are sat at the dinner table?” She would smile sweetly and tell me that he just liked to eat that way. As I grew up, I realised that it was his sign of humility and a custom which reminded him of eating in India. This recipe features in the dadima’s cookbook (page 194) and I want to share it with you so that you can cook it for your family.
The beauty of my nanima’s aloo gobi lies in its simplicity, but depth of flavour. The great thing is that the ingredients are inexpensive and accessible. A family tradition of ours is to eat any leftover aloo gobi in a toasted panini-style sandwich the next day…sometimes with a squirt of ketchup if my sister is around! In my humble opinion, aloo gobi tastes even better the day after.
My nanima’s key advice to making this dish, is never to add tomatoes or water, as this makes the aloo gobi soggy (not kadi kadi). Her secret is to simmer the dish over a low heat, and not to over-stir. She used to serve it for my nanaji with mung masoor daal and fresh rotis (see page 91 and 211 in dadima’s book for recipes). She does not recommend freezing it, and says it tastes best fresh, or the day after. For best results, she recommends using a shallow, wide frying-pan with a lid.
(Potatoes & cauliflower)
300g medium-sized white potatoes (new potatoes or any suitable for boiling)
1 medium-sized cauliflower (just over 400g)
5 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
35g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 green finger chillies, finely chopped (or to taste)
1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
1 and a half teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons haldi (turmeric powder)
1 and a quarter teaspoons garam masala
Handful of chopped coriander, to garnish
Prepare ahead: To save time, cut and wash the cauliflower a few hours in advance of cooking. This way, it has plenty of time to dry.
1. Peel the potatoes, chop into small chunks and set aside. Cut the cauliflower into medium-sized florets, wash, and leave to dry on a plate lined with kitchen roll. My nanima does this so that the florets are dry before going into the pan.
2. Make a start on your tharka (onion masala base). Heat the oil in a wide, non-stick pan, and add the onions once hot. Stir regularly over a moderate heat until light brown.
3. Add the garlic, ginger and green chillies. Cook until the onions are medium brown.
4. Stir through the cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the haldi, fully coating the onions. Cook the spices for 2 minutes, stirring regularly.
5. Stir in the potatoes over a moderate heat, ensuring each one is coated with spices.
6. Stir through the remaining salt and haldi, ensuring the potatoes are coated with colour.
7. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are half-cooked. Check and stir in between to ensure that nothing is sticking.
8. Carefully stir in the cauliflower florets, coating them fully with the spices. (Make sure that the cauliflower is dry before adding – pat dry with a kitchen roll).
9. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes and cauliflower are almost cooked. Stir half way during this time.
10. Stir through the garam masala. Cover and simmer for 7-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft enough to pierce with a knife and fully cooked.
11. Garnish with coriander and serve immediately.