Stinky goodness of sun dried cauliflower
Not as bad as your stinky tofu or durian but we are splitting hairs. When cooked, it is yummy – obviously. So, lets take this cauliflower journey – from raw to sun-dried to hydrated cauliflowers.
In India, where the sun shines bright and hot, one takes the florets of fresh cauliflower, strings them with a thread and hangs them up to dry. Cauliflowers have this wonderful fractal nature, so for the first few days, this looks like a garland of small cauliflowers. But within a few days, the cauliflowers shrink – like flowers – they get a bit of dust on them, and look a few shades darker.
This cauliflower garland is left in the sun for 7 or more days, until all the moisture is lost and is transformed into a fistful of stinky bits. This we bag, safely away from all moisture. When ready to eat (and for most of us, it is as soon as the cauliflowers are out of sun), we take a handful, remove the thread gently, give a rinse and boil these in lightly salted water for 12-15 minutes. They start looking like malnourished and tanned cousins of their original raw self but with an ultra-strong cauliflower smell. If you bite into one, they are crunchier and chewier than the raw cauliflower. This combination of aroma and texture is what this is all about. So, now one makes a pilaf thusly.
Recipe for sun-dried cauliflower pilaf (serves 2):
- 1/2 cup of basmati rice
- 1 cup of water
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 1 finely chopped shallot
- 1 tsp of finely julienned ginger
- 1/2 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp of black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups of reconstituted sun-dried cauliflower
- 2 tsp of chopped coriander leaves for garnish
- 1 tsp of chopped mint leaves for garnish
To hot oil, add the shallots and cook until the shallots are translucent. Add cumin seeds, bay leaf, and peppercorns, and stir for a minute. Add the rice and stir gently until the rice is coated with oil and turns opaque. Now add the rest of the ingredients except the garnish and let cook uncovered on medium until the water boils off (approx 8 minutes). At this point, reduce the heat to lowest setting, cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Do not be tempted to uncover and peek lest you remove the steam that has built up. Take off the heat and let rest covered for 5-10 minutes longer. Fluff with fork, add the garnish and serve with raita, relish and papaddum. Enjoy!
In Bay Area, where the sun is not half as strong, I sometimes make the sun-dried cauliflower in a low temperature oven. Start them off in low oven (200 F) for 3 hours, then leave under a strong spot lamp for 24-48 hours (half a day for 2-4 days) and finally leave to air dry until completely dry. Maybe because we have grown up with it, this North Indian specialty is indeed worth the effort.