Saturday, March 3, 2007

Goin' Ghandi with Cauliflower

I never knew I loved Indian food till I married a man who will try any food as long as it's not on the non-kosher species list...meaning we only consume life forms that have the requisite cud-chewers with split hooves or swimmers with fins and scales.

Pigs, you are safe. (Cue the squeals of delight)
Shellfish and squid, swim free! (Strains from Free Willy...)

As a Southerner, I had never progressed beyond the hearty Soul Food selections of my upbringing, the Mississippi and Tennessee versions always including the traditional Dinner on the Grounds (think Baptist church in the Wildwood) fare of Anything Fried, Vegetable Casserole Anything with Cream of Mushroom Soup, 75 types of desserts on a single table, and Gravy. If it's not fried, it's mushroom-souped up or covered in gravy.

Maybe that's why I adore homegrown tomatoes. They were one of the few true vegetables to escape camouflage. I feel the same about a really cold and perfectly ripe watermelon...IN SEASON. And a really good peach. DON'T put anything on them before eating, and you have perfection. Making them into anything else is do-able, but not Nirvana.

Southerners are purported to love their vegetables. Just remember that that comes with the above caveat. Greens, for instance. Greens are collards or turnip greens, or kale if you're going to stray a bit, sliced into shreds and slow cooked all day with half a pig thrown in for flavor. Or a couple teaspoons of olive oil for the pig-free. Cook down till you have a pungent and steaming mush of hot concoction that looks like limp seaweed and smells like week old stale towels, and it's a Southerner's perfection. Eat with hot cornbread and swear allegiance to Robert E. Lee.

I grew up on a meal I don't think I could ever tire of: Hot cooked pink-eye purple hull peas ( a form of cow-pea, but don't go calling me a cow), Steaming hot SOUTHERN cornbread (the salty crisp kind cooked in a cast iron skillet and slathered with butter, NOT the thick cakey sweet kind loved by northerners), and a plate of garden-fresh sliced tomatoes. It HAS to be this trio. You can add other dishes to the menu, but without these three, the meal's not complete. You eat it with homemade iced tea either unsweet, or lightly sweet with a couple twists of lime or sprigs of mint...oh lawdy! Now I'm hungry... :)

Sure, we grew other vegetables. Tomatoes were king, then purple hull and blackeye peas, green snap beans, peppers, okra, squashes, watermelon, and corn. The raccoons usually got the corn.

Sometimes we purchased broccoli, but mostly if having company. Even with that selection, I learned the Southern way. I never branched out.

When I was a newly-single parent, after a marriage of 13 years went heartbreakingly to an end, I went through a long grieving process. When I first tried to come out of that, there was a sense of attempting to discover what I, myself, would want to do without accounting for another person's tastes. The neutral interior walls got painted Devonshire Cream and Goldenrod. The Victorian Anything went, along with the Queen Anne sofa and loveseat...He wanted them, so there they went. I got a squishy huge upholstered sofa that would fit four people and a dog, and the prim prints were exchanged for hand-painted oils, kid's pictures, and reproduction vintage posters. Books became their own art statement. Knick knacks went to the yard sale. Real life detritus (toys, magazines, mail, videos) were loosely corraled in big baskets. The tiny front flowerbed, infiltrated with bermuda and weeds, got mulched and potted...I squeezed all flowers and herbs into huge pots and mulched the flowerbed 1/3 of the way up them. I let what wanted to die die and what insisted on living live. The yellow jasmine vine lived and tried to take over, so I just cut out a nice edge for the window and shutter and another along the roofline. It became a shady glory. Lantana and red verbena became nearly shrubs, so I let them go to town, and I painted my front door red to match. This progress matched my own adjustment to change.

My cooking did not, but I did venture forth with my daughter for Foods Unknown. I knew better than to try cooking them. I couldnt even afford to assemble the right ingredients, much less have the time to do the recipe justice in my kitchen when exhausted at night from a day's work. But we started eating out a couple times a week, usually at the hole-in-the-wall places rather than fancy. My daughter was a Chicken Nugget Queen. I wanted her to taste the world.

I'll jump ahead...she acclimated, and we tasted together. Mexican was first. Mmmm! Oh how I love guacamole. Asian was next. There was a favorite place that we discovered and began congregating there with friends who also became loyal patrons. Japanese was next. We did the amazing tea, rices, and sushis there. And Ethiopian....oh, the lamb and vegetables eaten with ethiopian bread by hand from a shared pan. My daughter was often cajoled into trying these places, and it didnt happen overnight, but now she's a variety enthusiast as well...hooray!

Did that translate to my kitchen? I lacked the confidence and many of the ingredients. There was the time I DID try to roll my own vegetable sushi rolls. Oh my... And the failed stir-fries that never tasted authentic. ETc Etc

All that to say that now I'm CAUTIOUSLY trying recipes that read "Tried and true! SO easy! Family favorite! A quick and delicious meal!" Actually, I'm finding from others' blogs that I'm not the only person out there who has discovered a Foodie's taste lurks within, but has never learned quite how to be cooked up the right way in the kitchen...until now. Some of these recipes ARE easy enough to try.

Case in point: Bread

When I turned 40, I reasoned if women for so many years have made edible breads without Bosch mixers and bread machines, surely I could find ONE bread recipe I could manage. I did try, and have hit on a few now that have amazed me that I'm able to make. To date, since only this time last year, I've learned to make Challah, pizza dough, whole wheat no knead bread, and a couple others. I'm no artisan breadmaker, yet. I do still WANT the Bosch, but I for now use my own two hands, and it feels great :)

I also made a vinegar with my stunted jalapenos. I plopped the peppers in and tasted a week later. I've never known what I'd use that for, but it has begun topping most meats, sandwiches, and anything needing a little extra's truly yum!

So all this has led me up to my present sampling of online blog recipes...and I'm richer for the experience! These have been tested, altered, experimented with, and photographed. And eaten!

I'm starting very very small. I have to have all the ingredients. I have to like the picture. I have to like the sound of it and understand the cooking terms. I have to want to eat it.

My husband and I got hooked on Indian cooking. I don't know the terms, the locations of the different regional styles, nor how to cook it. But I discovered we both love curry, and there's NOT an Indian restaurant around here. So last week, I tried a recipe a friend of mine SWORE was delicious and easy. And it was!!

That overconfidence helped me to throw caution to the wind (well, somewhat) enough to attempt another. I found one which was REALLY easy, on a blog recently. I'll have to go back and find out whose, and then link to it.

The interesting thing about both is that they containn CAULIFLOWER. Cauliflower is NOt a southern vegetable. And I've always been put off by the look of it.

In plainspeak, cauliflower looks like a brain.

(Professor's voice) "...and here, students (holding up the brainlike cauliflower head) we have the rather more spherical specimen, perhaps stunted from having ended its life so abruptly in order to be featured in a daring Home Ec experiment..."

I've really never eaten the stuff.

But I also found out I need to regulate my blood sugars and stay away from too many pastas, starches, and anything else wheatenly-delicious.

Indian food has a wonderful cast of vegetables that I don't usually fix, and cauliflower is often used. Both of these recipes I tried featured cauliflower...the first, as an ingredient in a tomato and yogurt sauce with chicken, and the other with Yukon Gold potatoes and a lot of spices I like.

Well, both recipes turned out. I look the other way when slicing the cauliflower and chop the pieces to look less lobal. These two recipes have elevated the humble cauliflower to nearly pasta status, with few carbs and less reason not to have two helpings instead of just one.

I don't like weird food. I do like good food. I nearly licked the bowl clean after fixing these two dishes. So did my family.

Probably not the best family to have at a black-tie event? ;-) Well, we ate our vegetables.

And licked the bowl again ...and were at one with the universe.

(But I still want a dog!)

No comments: