How to cook the perfect aloo gobi

October 23, 2016

This Punjabi potato and cauliflower curry is now a prized dish across India and Pakistan. But for the best texture, should the potatoes be waxy or floury? And which spices bring out its comforting warmth?

According to chef Vivek Singh, this hearty cauliflower and potato dish is likely the more common and basic vegetable curry you will find anywhere in India. Cheap, filling and only coincidentally vegan, its a recipe you definitely need in your repertoire.

The problem is, although aloo gobi has its origins in the Punjab, its now a firm favourite across India and Pakistan and, as Singh find, one of the disadvantages of its universal appeal is that there is no such thing as a universal recipe. Consider this, then, as one very good place to start.

Potatoes

Aloo, of course, means potato the backbone of this dish. Most recipes are pretty vague on this point, with only Kaushy Patels volume Prashad based on recipes from their own families Bradford vegetarian eatery of the same name identify the waxy variety; and Sumayya Usmani writer of the new volume Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and Memories from Pakistan recommending more floury Maris Pipers in a recipe from her maternal grandmother, Nani. The latter soften more easily during cook, giving a fluffier result more comforting, perhaps, but more prone to fall apart in the pan. It seems in the spirit of this thrifty dish to use up what it is you happen to have in the house, but if youre buying them specially, Id recommend waxy potatoes.

Vivek
Vivek Singhs aloo gobi. Photograph: Felicity Cloake the Guardian

Patel sauts the potatoes in hot petroleum before adding any liquid, and the recipe in Madhur Jaffreys Curry Bible does the same with pre-cooked spuds. Perhaps mine arent cool enough, but I find these boiled cubes soak up much of the fat in the pan, making a mock of her direction that one should pour out the excess petroleum before adding any other ingredients frying adds both richness and flavour to the dish, but the result should stop short of greasy.

Every recipe calls for the potatoes to be peeled before use. As usual, Im not going to bother: potato scalps add flavours and texture, although Im sure this would be dismissed as mere laziness by your average Punjabi granny.

Cauliflower

The cauliflower is, in theory, a simpler proposition, although the lady behind my favourite veg stall informs me its currently rarer than hens teeth thanks to the winter inundations.( Supermarkets, of course, seem to have fewer problems .) As with the potatoes, a brief dance in hot petroleum will bring out its flavour. Bear in mind that, as Singh suggests in his volume Curry: Classic and Contemporary, if you cut the florets slightly bigger than the potatoes, they will cook in roughly the same day, rather than overcooking and disintegrating before the potatoes are done.

Sumayya
Sumayya Usmanis aloo gobi. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

Tomatoes

Although aloo gobi tends to be a somewhat dry dish, some liquid must then cook the vegetables and this generally comes in the form of tomatoes( although Jaffrey, who creates the wettest version I test, also adds water ). In its homeland, of course, the tomatoes would almost always be fresh, but here, unless its high summer, Id recommend the tinned variety or adding a dollop of tomato puree as well, as Usmani recommends, for colouring. Her sauce is rich and flavourful, which I suspect is because she takes the time to cook off the excess liquid from the tomatoes, simmering the curry until the petroleum rises, the classic sign of a well-cooked curry, and a detail missing from some of the other recipes.

Madhur
Madhur Jaffreys aloo gobi. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

Aromatics

Only Patel shuns onion and whether you go for Usmanis sweeter, richer red onion, or the more widely used savoury yellow variety, its important to cook it until soft and golden, without letting it brown. Ginger and garlic complete this very Indian holy trinity of base flavours, and Patel also sticks in some smashed green chilli, but my panel prefers them left whole, a la Jaffrey, Singh and Usmani and not only because some of them are total weaklings. Whole chillis, simmered in the gravy, add a much gentler heat and, as a bonus, they appear quite fairly, too.

Jaffrey whizzes her onion, ginger and garlic into a paste before cook, which means her gravy tastes overpoweringly of onion no bad thing, but it doesnt leave much room for the other flavours.

Kaushy
Kaushy Pateks aloo gobi. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

Spices

A few spices pop up in almost every recipe I try cumin, for example, which pairs beautifully with cauliflower, and turmeric for colouring. Coriander seeds add a please zestiness, and I love the savoury make of Usmanis nigella seeds, which performs a similar role to Jaffrey and Patels more garlicky asafoetida, but looks most attractive. Shes also the only one to utilize dried fenugreek foliages generally sold as methi , which gives her dish a distinctive bitternes herbaceousness. This is balanced by the sweetness of homemade garam masala( cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and star anise) its not essential, but it does make for a more interesting flavour. Add chilli powder to savour; aloo gobi should be a very homely pleasure, and one persons comforting warmth is anothers sweaty nightmare.

To finish

A squeeze of lime juice, as Singh suggests, adds an acidic part( which is lacking in tinned tomatoes in particular ), and a handful of coriander adds freshness; both welcome in a carb-rich dish that they are able tend towards the heavy. If you prefer it heavy, however, then you might enjoys Patels finishing touch: a big dollop of butter which may go some way to explaining why Indian eatery food always savours so good.

Perfect aloo gobi

Felicity
Felicity Cloakes perfect aloo gobi. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

( Serves 4)
4 tbsp neutral oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
tsp nigella seeds
350 g waxy potatoes, cut into rough 2.5 cm dice
1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets and chunks of stalk slightly larger than the potato
1 yellow onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tin of plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, or 5 chopped fresh tomatoes and 1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted in a dry pan and ground
-1 tsp medium chilli powder
tsp turmeric
2-4 small green chillies, slit along their length
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp methi( dried fenugreek foliages)
1 tsp garam masala
Juice of a lime
Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

Heat the petroleum in a wide, lidded pan over a medium-high heat. When its hot, add the cumin and nigella seeds and cook for a few seconds util they pop, then add the potatoes and saut until golden. Scoop out with a slotted spoonful and repeat with the cauliflower, then scoop this out into a separate bowl.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, add a bit more petroleum if necessary, and add the onion. Cook until soft and golden but not brown, then stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for got a couple of minutes. Tip in the tomatoes, ground coriander, chilli and turmeric and cook, stirring regularly, until the petroleum have started to pool around the side of the pan.

Add the potatoes back in along with the fresh chillies and salt, bring to a simmer, turn down the heat, encompas and cook for five minutes. Add the cauliflower and a good splashing of water, encompas and cook until both are tender, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesnt stick, and adding more water if necessary.

Take off the heat, stir in the methi and garam masala and leave for 10 minutes, then stir in the lime juice and fresh coriander before serving Usmani recommends pairing it with plain basmati, naan, paratha or brioche buns, and a pickle or chutney.

Aloo gobi: can cauliflower get any better? How do you cook yours regional fluctuations especially welcome and which other Indian vegan and vegetarian recipes would you recommend ?

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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