Sometimes nothing hits the spot like a bit of rich, meaty prose. Except perhaps bastardised cauliflower cheese, that is.
In her fascinating food memoir “The Settler’s Cookbook” Yasmin Alibhai-Brown traces the long trajectory of East African Indians from her forebears who first left India in the 19th century to work in East Africa under British rule, to life in Uganda in the 60’s and early 70’s. She paints an unflinchingly honest picture of what it was like to live under the brutality of Idi Amin’s regime and subsequent life in the UK after he kicked all the Asians out in the early seventies.
It’s easily the best food memoir I’ve read for some time and is full of captivating anecdotes interspersed with some very distinctive recipes incorporating African, British and Asian influences. I must admit that not all of them are to my taste, but it always warms my cockles to see “ghettoised” versions of indigenous classics. Something about dishes like her mother’s spicy shepherd’s pie and chilli steak speak siren-like and directly to the Anglo-Asian in me.
Inspired by these recipes and in a bid to thwart the treacherous chill, I knocked up a curried cauliflower cheese because that’s just the sort of wild and crazy person I am these days.
I like Simon Hopkinson’s method in “The Vegetarian Option”. Instead of making your basic roux and incrementally adding milk and cheese, he goes for a bread-sauce like infusion of milk, cloves, onion and bay before straining it all in. As it’s all about those flavour layers I think it’s definitely worth this extra faff-factor. I also added a touch of homemade curry powder and some garlic to the cheese sauce before baking. This pepped it up a treat and my tastebuds were stretched both east and west in a glorious culinary tug of war.
For the curry powder
2 tbs whole coriander seeds
1 tbs whole cumin seeds
the seeds from 3 cardamom pods
2 tsp peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 whole cloves
3 dried hot red chillies, crumbled
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 curry leaves
- dry roast the lot in a frying pan and then blitz in a clean coffee grinder. Keeps in an airtight jar for yonks.
for the cauliflower cheese*
salt and freshly ground white pepper
500ml full-cream milk
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
50g plain flour
a little freshly grated nutmeg
200g firm cheese, grated plus extra for sprinkling on top
serves 2, generously
- Remove the green leaves from the cauliflower and break the curds into roughly even-sized florets.
- Add the cauliflower florets to a pan of boiling salted water and boil until almost tender (remember they will continue to cook whilst in the sauce, in the oven).
- Drain and carefully lay out on a folded tea towel; their cooking water will continue to exude for quite some minutes after draining.
- Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5.
- Put the milk, cloves, onion and bay leaf in a small saucepan and bring up to a simmer. Cook for a minute or two then cover and leave to infuse off the heat for 10 minutes or so.
- In another pan, melt the butter, (I crushed in a clove of garlic and sizzled it off at this point) and stir in the flour. Cook stirring over a low heat for a few minutes, then remove from the heat and strain in the hot milk all in one go.
- Whisk together vigorously until well amalgamated. Now, using a wooden spoon, stir continuously until the sauce begins to thicken and become very smooth. (I stirred in a tablespoon of the curry powder here)
- Leave to cook for a further 10 minutes over the merest heat; one of those heat-diffuser mats employed here would be a good idea.
- Add the cheese and stir until it has fully melted into the sauce. Season with pepper and nutmeg and taste for salt.
- Place the cauliflower in an ovenproof dish that will accommodate it snugly. Carefully pour over the sauce so that it fully coats each floret and sprinkle with the extra cheese.
- Bake in the oven for a good 25-30 minutes, or until the surface is well blistered and the sauce is bubbling nicely around the edges.
*taken from p34 of “The Vegetarian Option” by Simon Hopkinson- Quadrille Publishing Ltd.