I had the thoroughly delightful experience of interviewing Venkappa and Ratna Gani, Austin gardeners extraordinaire, for an article in Edible Austin. At the end of the conversation, I asked Ratna if she could pass on a shred of authentic Indian cooking advice, and here’s what I got:
“Add whole mustard seeds and whole cumin seeds to hot oil. When the seeds start to pop, add onions and vegetables and sauté. Finish with curry powder, salt, lemon and tamarind, to taste.”
A perfect and complete recipe in two short sentences. The answer to questions such as: “What vegetables?” and “How much?” is simply, “Whatever you have.” And here’s what I had:
Cauliflower, ginger, carrots and scallions.
Curry, black pepper, sea salt and turmeric.
The carrot tops were entirely too gorgeous to toss into the compost, so I banded them together and hung them upside down in the chicken’s yard. Chickens feasting on carrot tops is a delightful sight.
Back to peeling, chopping and cooking. I went heavy on the ginger as a stand-in for lemon and tamarind, boiled a few cups of basmati rice in the process and
- 3 T canola oil
- 2 t mustard seeds
- 1 t whole cumin seeds
- Two sizable knobs of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- Half head of cauliflower rough chopped
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 4-5 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 -14 oz. can of garbanzo beans
- 1 t sea salt
- 1 t black pepper
- 2 t curry powder
- 1/2 t turmeric
- A few sprigs of cilantro
- 1 cup Basmati rice
- 1 3/4 cups water
Boil 1 3/4 cups of water and add rice along with a touch of salt. Cover and simmer until water is absorbed–about 15 minutes.
Heat oil in a large pan or wok. Add mustard and cumin seeds to hot oil. After the mustard seeds have popped for a few minutes, add the white parts of the scallions and ginger, followed by cauliflower and carrots.
As the vegetables are cooking on a medium to high heat, gently add curry, turmeric, salt and pepper. Stir vegetables to evenly distribute the spices and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.
Drain garbanzo beans and toss into the vegetable. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in scallion greens.
Serve over rice and garnish with a few cilantro sprigs.
While I’m no stranger to a teaspoon of curry here and there, the game changer here is the delightful little mustard seeds. From the moment they start popping in the oil to that final journey from the fork, the little mustard seeds can add a whole new dimension to a few humble vegetables.