Indian-Inspired Spicy Cauliflower

We’ve all heard it–eat your vegetables. One of the recommendations for a healthy diet is that half of your plate should be vegetables and fruit–that’s alot! Fruit and vegetable juices do count, but still this is more servings than probably most people eat daily. Cauliflower is a cool season vegetable; it is reasonably priced and there are blemish-free heads of caulifower in stores. Now is a good time to cook with this vegetable. Indian-Inspired Spicy Cauliflower brings out the best in this vegetable. The end of this blog post contains a little nutrition trivia related to why we should eat more vegetables and fruits.Spicy Indian Cauliflower in iron skiller - 1 - IMG_2582_1


Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that people either really like or would rather leave it alone. Cauliflower can be prepared many ways — I love cauliflower with cheese sauce, creamed cauliflower soup, even deep fried cauliflower. The aromatic spices give this recipe an entirely different taste–it is very pleasing.

This recipe came to me from Kristy, my daughter-in-law. She used to live next door to us but moved to Texas a couple of years ago. She adapted this recipe from a friend of Indian heritage. I wish I’d payed more attention to how Kristy made it; I’ve discovered that making my cauliflower taste like Kristy’s recipe is more difficult than it seems. But it probably doesn’t matter; all versions turned out well. Kristy added some ingredients–onions, garlic, tomatoes, ginger and mustard seeds–not found in most of the recipe versions of a WEB search; hence, I’m calling this Indian-inspired.

Spicy vs Hot

This recipe is full of aromatic spices; it can be made “hot” by using liberal amounts red pepper and chili powder. These ingredients are optional, omitting them allowed the flavor of the caulifower and spices to prevail.

Kristy’s recipe uses the Indian spice, garam masala. This is a blend of spices used in South Indian dishes. There are many variations with different ingredients depending who is blending the spice, the intended market, etc.  Garam masala is used to season chicken, meat and vegetables. Pay attention to which version you are using; make adjustments if needed. For example, turmeric gives this dish the yellow color, most versions of garam masala don’t contain turmeric. Apparenly, you are expected to add your own for color.

I visited a grocery store with an International food selection; the proprietor helped me select several  jars of garam masala. The common ingredients were corinder, cumin and cardamon. The traditional jars also included cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves. A few contained one or more of spices, black pepper, chillies, nutmeg, ginger.

Kristy’s recipe calls for only a small amount of garam masala. She added some of the ingredients in garam masala separately. You can also omit these individual ingredients and add much more garam masala.

Other Recipe Variations

Kristi chops the cauliflower flowerettes in small pieces. This makes it much easier to mix in with the spice blend and to braise in the skillet. The photo shows the cauliflower flowerettes a little larger. In this case, it works best to saute the onions, add the spices; then add a little water to this and pour over the cauliflower in another bowl. Mix to combine and then return to the skillet to braise.

Braised or Roasted.

The caulifower can be braised on top of the stove in a covered skillet. It can also be roasted in a hot oven–add a little additional oil and mix in. Either way works well.

Indian-Inspired Spicy Caulifower Recipe

  • one 1-lb head of cauliflower (3 cups chopped flowerettes)
  • 1 Tbsp, olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 chopped medium onion (1/2 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp mashed fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • dash red pepper (up to 1/4 tsp to make this dish really spicy)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala seasoning (or omit coriander and used 2 tsp garam masala)
  • 1 fresh tomato, chopped
  • fresh parsley for garnish

Wash the cauliflower, core and chop into flowerettes in either fine or medium size, set aside.

In large skillet, heat olive oil, add onion and mustard seed on medium high. (Be careful, the mustard seeds might begin to pop.) Lower the heat and cook on medium until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook one more minute.

Remove from stove, add coriander, turmeric, chili powder, red pepper, salt and garam masala and stir.

If using finely chopped caulifower: with spatula, push the onion/spices to side of skillet. Add the calliflower to skillet and mix the onion/spices over the cauliflower and carefully stir to combine. Add several tablespoons water. Cover tightly with a lid. Return to stove, and cook for about 10 – 15 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally, cook until the cauliflower is soft. Add tomato and cook one additional minute. Remove cover and cook to evaporate water, if needed. Garnish with fresh parsley.

 If using medium chopped cauliflower: Add 1/4 cup water to the onion/spices in skillet, stir to combine. Pour this over cauliflower in separate bowl and mix to combine. Return to skillet on stove, cover tightly with lid. Cook for 20-25 minutes on low heat, stirring ocassionaly, cook until the cauliflower is soft. Continue as above. 

 Nutrition Trivia: Top 10 Foods that Fight Cancer

Recently, a magazine article caught my attention in “Nutrition Dimension,” a journal which provides nutritional information for dietitians. The article was entitled, “The Top 10: Foods That Fight Cancer.”  Hum, Indian-Inspired Spicy Cauliflower contained four of the ingredients that were mentioned: cauliflower (cruciferous vegetable), garlic, peppers, and turmeric. Turmeric contains curcumin, a chemical which has powerful anti-cancer properties in laboratory animal studies. Seems too good to be true. Do foods fight cancer?

I decided to look up the original research article that this one was based on and it is found in Nutritional Journal: “Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet.” by Michale S. Donaldson, 2004. This article was much more comprehensive and gave an entirely different focus. The author did not make the claim than any single food can prevent cancer; but made some rather bold claims that 30-40 percent of cancers–especially breast and colon cancer–and cancer risk can be prevented by dietary and life-style changes. Donaldson’s diet changes include reducing obestiy, red meats, refined flour and sugar, increasing fiber and including 10 vegetable and 4 fruit servings daily as well as several other modifications.

So what is the truth? It is probably somewhere in between. Most human studies are based on epidemiological evidance–comparing what people eat over a number of years to their cancer incidence. Some foods prevent cancers in laboratory animals; however, what works in laboratory animals may not translate to humans. The epidemiological research seems to point that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, as well as fiber, helps lower risk of chronic diseases and many cancers. It is hard to conduct the studies needed in humans to get definative answers if a food or foods can prevent cancer. So, current dietary recommendations are based on the best evidence. Donaldson’s dietary recommendations are much are extreme that those of MyPlate or US Dietary Guidelines. It’s up to each person to make their own best judgement. In the mean time, just enjoy the cauliflower.


Donaldson, Michael S. 2004, “Review: Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet: Nutrition Journal.

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