cauliflower curry, cheap, comfort food, curry, durban, family, generations, grandmother, healthy, home cooking, memories, personal story, quick, recipes, sentimental, south africa, South African Indian cooking, South African Indian curry, story, vegan, vegetarian
A few months before I left Durban I went to my grandmother’s house with a cauliflower and asked her to teach me how to make her moreish cauliflower curry. I knew that soon I’d be going away and there was a good chance I’d never taste her cooking again (sadly, I was right) and I wanted to have a good memory of time shared with her, since up to then all we’d been doing together was spending time in the waiting room at the hospital for her chemo treatments.
Ma cooked her cauliflower curry in a shallow, battered pot and I used to think that at least one of the reasons she made such effortlessly delicious meals had to do with that pot being seasoned with years of good cooking.
When I got here within a few weeks I was already cooking Ma’s cauliflower curry and P loved it so much he got me to teach him how to make it, and before you know it we were serving it to friends and family at dinners. When Ma heard how far her humble recipe had travelled, I think it was a little too surreal for her to understand (she could barely understand how I’d met a man without actually meeting him, the internet made absolutely no sense to her and I could have been talking about a group of imaginary friends when I spoke about P’s family with her on ‘video’). All she could say was “Don’t eat too much cauliflower, you’ll get gas. Put a little bicarb in the water and parboil the cauliflower to reduce the gas.”
My grandmother could be very frank at times.
Ma’s cauliflower curry continues to be one of those comfort foods for me. It was our last supper when P and I did Live Below The Line last year, and when I’m missing home cooking (South African Indian food is very different from Indian food here) it’s the quick go-to.
Especially with P being a vegetarian, we often eat this as a main dish with roti and pickle but it could easily be served as an accompaniment. It’s also economical, being made with just 4 ingredients (not accounting for the oil, salt and spices) and vegan friendly without requiring any changes.
You will need:
- One small cauliflower, washed and separated into florets
- A good glug of canola oil
- A small onion, thinly sliced
- Half a small tomato, thinly sliced
- Half a teaspoon of turmeric
- One teaspoon of chilli powder
- Half a cup of frozen peas (or as you like)
- Salt to taste
- Water (boil a kettle)
Heat the oil in a wide pot, and add onions. When they start to soften, add tomato, mix and allow to soften. Add cauliflower, peas, spices and salt. Mix well and cover with lid, allow to steam/fry for a few minutes. Add boiling water to just over halfway to where the cauliflower reaches. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let the curry bubble away. Check periodically and when the cauliflower is soft enough to be speared and broken with a fork, remove the pot lid, turn up the heat slightly and allow the remaining water in the pot to evaporate. Gently mix the cauliflower from time to time to prevent it from burning.
Tips: This dish calls for a little more oil and salt, I recommend adding salt as preferred by tasting throughout the cooking process to guide you. In the end the cauliflower should be soft and almost translucent, and there should be a thin, almost non-existent ‘gravy’ that’s more of a light sheen of liquid and oil coating the vegetables (see pic above).
This weekend was the first Mother’s Day in South Africa (and New Zealand) that I’ve been away from home, and the first without my grandmother. I stumbled across this wonderful project by a photographer who made a trip around the world taking photographs of grandmothers with their ‘signature’ dishes, and it made me think of how long I’ve wanted to share Ma’s special recipe on this blog.
This photo kind of makes me sad, because although I love it (I loved going out with Ma, even if it was to a long prayer service or doing her fruit and veg shopping at Habibs), it’s the last photograph we took together and it reminds me of how close we were when I was a child. Any older photos I tended to be the one behind the camera, but more than that, as I grew older Ma and I grew apart and it was only in those last months of her life that we started to spend more time together.
I believe in giving honest testimony about those who have passed on and the truth is that my grandmother and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things as I grew up. To her I was puzzlingly rebellious for a girl who was otherwise ‘good’ – I rejected parts of our culture and my family’s religion, had a mind and will of my own and I spent time wrapped up in worlds and ideas she couldn’t connect with. She could be frustratingly blinkered and I admit I had little patience for her in her older years, which I now regret.
What I don’t doubt is that my grandmother and I loved one another even though our relationship and who we were made it difficult to show that.
I know one of her biggest concerns was my disconnection from aspects of our culture that she saw as sacrament, even when the meaning behind those things were long lost and to my understanding, outdated. While I still strongly believe that tradition and culture must be carefully weighed for value instead of blindly following in our ancestor’s footsteps, I don’t think she understood that I also felt sadness that I could no longer genuinely partake in the rituals and conventions that I’d been brought up with because it meant that a large chunk of my life, of who I am and where I come from will always be lost to me in the sense that I won’t maintain it, and I won’t be passing it on. I am and probably always will be, surrounded by people for the rest of my life who don’t share those sense memories with me (kind of hard telling your partner about an amusing life experience when they don’t understand even the basic context for it) and I know those things will eventually be forgotten. What are memories and knowledge to me, will be stories of strange and far away things even to my own (future) children.
And that’s why I think one of the reasons cuisine from my culture and my family has grown to have more meaning to me is because it’s one of the parts of my heritage that has become easiest to keep and to pass on to others. I think Ma would appreciate that.
So if you do make Ma’s curry and enjoy it, let me know in the comments. I love the idea of her recipe traveling even further than she could have ever imagined.