Spicing up cauliflower

Travelling in India is always an adventure. This time we are in Kerala, in the very south, which the people proudly call ‘God’s own country’. Previously the Portuguese, Dutch and English laid claim here, and the Catholic church is very established. There’s quite a mish-mash of religions but everyone lives side by side and there are churches, temples and mosques. 

It’s lush and green, which is quite a surprise, as it’s very hot. It’s 36 degrees Celsius down on the coast and the Arabian sea is as warm as soup. It’s not a beach destination despite the long sandy beaches, and ladies wearing swimwear cause curiosity and consternation outside of resorts.

We have now moved up to the hills in search of a little heat relief – it’s a moderate 30 degrees here, which is much more comfortable.

As in most of Asia, the traffic is mad: Buses, trucks, cars, tuk tuks, bicycles and scooters, all beeping and weaving seem to aim for the gap. Zebra crossings are a mere suggestion, one might wonder if they are ornamental. Crossing the road is scary and takes a great leap of faith but we’re getting used to it. The one rule of the road seems to be to not to hit anything.

We are staying in a small village, up amongst the tea and spice plantations. There are acres and acres of tea bushes rolling down the hillsides. A river runs through our village and we can wander down the path out of the urban area where we can clamber across rocks and jump in. It’s refreshingly cool which is so welcome. 

Our accommodation is in a ‘homestay’ – we have small room with a fan and a traditional shower, which is a bucket and jug, a forerunner of our modern wet rooms. 

Our hosts, an elderly Keralan couple, have a spice garden behind the house, which is like a curated piece of jungle, where cardamoms, nutmegs, peppercorns, cacao and coffee are growing. It’s harvest time for nutmegs and peppercorns and they are laid out on the roof to dry. 

I spent yesterday evening in the kitchen with the lady of the house who is a great cook and shared some recipes with me. I learnt some advanced chapati tricks and this recipe for Gobi Manchuri, which is a cauliflower dish. The ingredient list is quite long but I reckon you could leave out the mace if you don’t have any – there’s plenty here at the moment, as it’s the lacy outer covering of fresh nutmeg. All the other ingredients should be available in the Asian store in Spiller’s Lane, Clonakilty, including fresh curry leaves, which are stashed in the freezer.

Gobi Manchuri


• 1 small cauliflower

• 1 heaped tsp turmeric

• 1 tsp salt

• 3tbs coconut or vegetable oil

• 3 cloves

• 2-3 green cardamoms

• a pinch of mace

• 1/2tsp fennel seeds

• 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

• 2 sprigs curry leaves 

• 1 small green pepper, reseeded and diced

• 2tbs garlic/ginger paste – garlic and ginger buzzed/ground in mortar and pestle or very finely chopped 

• 2tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

• 1 green chilli, split in half 

• 1 tsp garam masala

• 1tsp ground coriander

• 1 large ripe tomato, chopped

• 1 tsp cornflour mixed with a little water 

• 1 tsp salt


Chop the cauliflower florets into small pieces. Put into a saucepan and almost cover with water

Add one heaped tsp turmeric and one tsp salt. Bring to the boil then cook for two to three minutes.

Drain, discard the water and put the cauliflower aside.

Put a shallow pan on the heat and add enough coconut/veg oil to cover the bottom. Add the cloves, cardamoms, mace, fennel and cumin seeds. Gently cook on low heat for two minutes.

Add the chopped onion then continue to cook until the onion softens.

Strip the curry leaves from the stems and stir in then add the green pepper. Cook for two to three minutes longer, then stir in the garlic/ginger paste, 1tsp Kashmiri chilli powder, garam masala and ground coriander.

Add a little more oil if it’s too dry then cook for a further two to three minutes.

Stir in the chopped tomato, then cook until the tomato melts down, Season with salt.

At the same time heat another shallow pan and tip in the cauliflower and 2-3tbs water plus 1tsp Kashmiri chilli powder. Fry gently until the water has disappeared.

Tip the cooked spice mix pinto the cauliflower and mix well. Cook gently for four to five minutes more. Stir in the cornflour, mix and check the seasoning. It may need a little more salt.

I’ll be back in March with more new recipes to share.

Sunny greetings


Karen Austin

Karen Austin is the co-owner of the Lettercollum Kitchen Project in Clonakilty.

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