Cauliflower Qorma Baskets – Qorma-e-Gul-e-Kalam

Serves 2, generously
Pure vegetable ostentation. Well, this isn’t actually on a par with those who can sculpt flowers out of carrots, or carve veg into musical instruments. But this is still quite a special dish. Cauliflower florets are cooked into a spicy Afghan qorma, which is then piled back into the natural ‘basket’ created by the leaves and stem of the vegetable.
Caulis are big in the Middle East, although they are most often to be found fried with a tarator sauce or pickled.
You will need:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • veggie ghee or rapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon cracked coriander seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 hot green chilli, chopped
  • 1cm knob fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 level teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 level teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 softish tomatoes, chopped
  • 400ml veg stock
  • 2 small cauliflowers – choose pert ones with pretty leaves
  • 1 medium turnip, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped fresh coriander to garnish

Zuh? (which is Pashtun for shall we get cracking?) Fry the onion in a spoonful of ghee, and then add the coriander, fennel, garlic, chilli and ginger. Once the onion has softened, add the ground spices and sugar, stirring well, followed by the chopped tomatoes. Next in is the vegetable stock: bring it all to the boil and allow it to bubble away for fifteen to twenty minutes so that the sauce thickens and reduces.
No time to slack. Now prepare the caulis. Using a sharp knife, cut the florets away from the stem – these you should rinse and put to one side. Wash the remaining ‘baskets’, trim any unsightly bits off the leaves, and cut the bottom of the stalk so that it will sit relatively flat. Now plunge them into boiling salted water and blanch them for about four minutes. Drain carefully and keep them hot somewhere.
Next lower the carrot and turnip into the bubbling sauce, followed after about fifteen minutes by the cauliflower florets. Stir well to mix, and simmer through for about fifteen minutes more, or until the cauliflower is well cooked (without falling apart). Finally, season the qorma to taste.
Nestle each of the baskets into a shallow bowl (so that they are forced to sit upright, with the leaves pointing upwards, ish). Divide the qorma between them, and strew each with coriander. Serve with individual pots of rice and yoghurt, a la nouvelle Afghan cuisine.

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