Another One from the Time-Life Series

January 15, 2015

Curried Cauliflower

Flipping through my Time-Life cookbooks is like stepping into a temperamental time machine. Some food-splotched recipes ring no bells, while others summon memories so vivid I can literally smell them.  How many times did I make that manicotti, and for how many people?  Suddenly I’m lugging it up the rickety steps of an abandoned building on Stanton Street that a friend once called home, still warm from my oven. There was only one fork for every two people that night – which made the manicotti taste even better. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve made the ghobi sabzi (curried cauliflower) below. As I was cooking, I tried to predict what I would think of the flavor. Would it seem blandly familiar, like a robust curry that had been flattened to suit a mainstream American palette from the sixties?

Just the opposite. This dish may not be entirely authentic, but it really sings. With the exception of the black mustard seeds, you probably have the ingredients in your cupboard right now. It's easy to make and utterly delicious–comforting, richly spiced, perfectly balanced. I moved onto a second bowl almost immediately after finishing the first.

Gobhi Sabzi (Adapted from The Cooking of India )

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon scraped, finely chopped fresh ginger

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 head cauliflower, washed, trimmed, divided into small flowerets, and dried thoroughly 

1 small ripe tomato, washed, cored and finely chopped

1 fresh jalapeño or serrano, washed, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon ghee, melted (clarified butter)

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Stir in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger and onions. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, add the salt and turmeric, and continue stirring for 3 or 4 minutes. 

Drop in the cauliflower and turn the flowerets about with a spoon until they are evenly coated with the onion mixture. Then stir in the tomato, chili, ground cumin, sugar. Reduce the heat to medium low, and stirring occasionally, cook over moderate heat until the cauliflower is tender but still intact, 10-15 minutes. 

To serve, transfer to a bowl, and sprinkle with cilantro and ghee. 

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  • Toni Woods says:

    Your posts bring back such happy memories. I spent countless hours in local library as a kid in the 1970s reading and borrowing various volumes from the Time Life Foods of the World series. I now own my own set (purchased on Ebay). I miss you and Gourmet terribly!! I also own (I started collecing in the 1980s) a nearly complete set of Gourmet (missing just a few of the oldest issues from the 1940s), including all of the issues from when you were the editor. I cherish them! I always tell my boss – the only person I’d ever leave you to work for would be Ruth Reichl!

  • Lynn McBride says:

    Who could have guessed back then that cauliflower would be the celebrated vegetable du jour? And I love the 1 fork story.
    I echo the sentiments in Toni’s comments, too. I’m still mourning the late great Gourmet, nothing can replace it!
    Lynn at

  • Viviane says:

    Hi Ruth, this recipe is one that I would like to try. I used to own these books but I lost them when we moved. There is one recipe that I used to make all the time from The cooking of Italy. I wonder if you have it and if so, would you please post it as i have requests from my family to make it again and I would like to make the bolognese ragu exactly as it was in this recipe. It was a lasagna recipe but it was from Northern Italy and it consisted of a bechamel sauce, the regu bolognese and the lasagna sheets. It did not have the usual ingredients such as mozzarella or ricotta. It did have chicken livers in the ragu. If you have it, I would so very grateful if you could help me out. Many thanks. Viviane

  • Viviane says:

    Ruth, where would one find black mustard seeds?