This spicy chickpea-cauliflower curry recipe has a wonderfully unique blend of spices and a little heat courtesy of red chili flakes. Add onions, garlic, ginger, cauliflower, tomatoes and chickpeas along with our spice blend and with one pot, in less than one hour, you’ll discover full on oil-free, guilt-free flavor perfection.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of chickpeas. I can hardly stop myself from nibbling on a few whenever I cook with them. Cauliflower is a super-versatile veggie and underestimated in my opinion. I attribute that to childhood experiences of being served overcooked, unseasoned florets. Mushy and boring!
Today I love cauliflower and devour it in all sorts of recipes from cauliflower rice, to tacos to of course curries. So along with the overcooking and complete lack of cauliflower creativity, what pushed me over the edge?
A matter of taste
Flavor profile. It’s more than a term from my favorite cooking shows. It’s an elusive term, according to chef, Marc Gottlieb. If cuisine accounts for all the elements of a dish, including ingredients, cooking method and other attributes particular to a specific region, then flavor is how we each experience those elements when we eat it. It’s an experience unique to all of us.
Try describing how something tastes to someone with no experience of it. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami? Some combination of the former? Every mouth (and nose) is on their own. Why am I off on this bunny trail? If we go back to the chickpeas and cauliflower, great as they are, the eaters’ experience of our curry (in this case) relies on the additional ingredients and in particular, the spices.
The spice blend for chickpea-cauliflower curry hosts a few of the usual suspects - garam masala, coriander and cumin. The unique taste comes from star anise. No, these aren’t table directions. Star anise is a bit unique and doesn’t taste exactly like isn’t exactly anise seed (although you can use this as a substitute).
The 'right' mix
For me, star anise has a sweet licorice taste. If you aren’t familiar with it as a single spice, it’s used in Chinese 5-spice mixture. Yes, that’s where you’ve had it before.
I used 2 whole stars for the spice mix and ground them. This yields 1 teaspoon. If you are concerned with it being a bit to overpowering, add half (or a quarter) teaspoon. You can always adjust spices up. Down – that’s a bit trickier.
Since I was grinding my star anise anyhow, I added the garam masala as my mix (store-bought in this case) contained a few whole spices such as pepper and coriander. That’s really a personal preference. Grinding will, however, intensify the flavor, so adjust accordingly.
Spices (especially salt) – small steps forward toward your perfect flavor profile. This is especially important if you are using a new spice or an old friend in a different way.
The cooking process for chickpea-cauliflower curry may remind you of one my favorite curries, Chana Masala. Start by sautéing the onions and add the garlic, ginger and chili flakes. The cauliflower is where the process differs at bit – you want to deglaze the pan with a bit of water and then add the cauliflower and allow it to steam. Seriously, not a huge step, but this means you don’t need to dirty another pot by lightly steaming the cauliflower separately.
Notes on the cooking process
I had a few concerns the first time I made this dish. The first was getting enough water to steam the cauliflower and getting it to mostly absorb. ½ cup has been the right amount every time, but you may need to add a bit more depending on the surface area of your pan and what it’s made from. That dictates how the heat is distributed.
My second consideration proved to not be such a big deal after all. It had to do with the tomatoes and getting enough sauce without it being too runny. That’s where the final step of simmering comes into play. The longer the tomatoes simmer, the more liquid is absorbed.
Most certainly, variety is the spice of life, but we should also be mindful of balance. The balance of variety can be the difference between big satisfaction and culinary disaster. Small, forward steps, tweaking as we go. We always have the option of add more spice – or we can even let others add their own. After all, their flavor profiles aren’t necessarily ours. Peace.Print
chickpea-cauliflower curry (plant-based/oil free)
Chickpea-cauliflower curry – chickpeas, cauliflower, tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and a unique spice blend. One pot, one hour – flavor perfection!
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Total Time: 55 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings 1x
- Category: Main Courses
- Cuisine: Indian
- 2 large onions, chopped (about 4 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. ginger, minced
- 2 tsp. dried chili flakes (you may want to adjust this depending on how spicy you like it)
- 1 cup water
- 1 medium head cauliflower cut into small florets (aim for about 6-7 cups small florets)
- 2-star anise or 1 tsp. ground anise
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 5 medium tomatoes diced (about 5 cups)
- 2 15-oz (400 gm.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Preparation tip: I used 2-star anise for this recipe, so I ground them, the garam masala, coriander and cumin in a spice grinder. If you use anise seed, use 1 tsp.
- Add the onions to a medium soup pot and, over medium heat, sauté the onions for about 5 minutes until they begin to soften.
- Add the garlic, ginger and red chili flakes and continue cooking for another minute.
- Add 1 cup water and stir in to deglaze the pan.
- Lower the heat to simmer, add the cauliflower, cover the pot and allow the cauliflower to steam over low heat for 8-10 minutes. This will start the cooking process.
- Add the spices (anise, garam masala, coriander and cumin), tomatoes and chickpeas. Mix well.
- Cover the pot and continue cooking for another 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes break down and the cauliflower is tender.
- Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro chopped and serve with rice if desired.
- Nutritional information does not include rice or other grain.
- Speaking of rice. It’s traditional to serve this curry with rice; however, you can also use cooked quinoa, bulgur or another of your favorite grains. This is even great with rice noodles.
- If you use frozen cauliflower in place of fresh, reduce the deglaze water to ¼ cup and add the frozen directly or if thawed, skip the simmering cauliflower step and just add it along with the tomatoes, spices and chickpeas, stir and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down.
Keywords: chickpea-cauliflower curry