Curried Cauliflower Cheese

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*

1 cauliflower

salt and freshly ground white pepper

500ml full-cream milk

2 cloves

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

75g butter

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.


  1. That looks just the ticket for weather like we’re having in London at the moment. I think it would be one of the few non-meaty dishes that could really banish the deep-seated chill you can get from too long out in the cold. Something i will be storing away to try as soon as possible (when i have some cauliflower that is).

  2. full-cream, nutmeg, cheese, white pepper, a white-flowered veg, i am in. rej this is the ultimate comfort food for the winter. now for that glass of pinot noir to go nicely with. x (or even a nice Ale).

  3. Love this sort of wild and craziness – will you make that for us? it sounds utterly moorish! Love the east/ west combination. I always order cauliflower with my balti. and this is with cheese! Yums! Mouth is watering! xxx

  4. Ooo- started reading Settlers Cookbook in Borders and thought it was really good. Just waiting for it to be returned so I can borrow it from the library to read properly now! Would also recommend Madhur Jaffrey’s memoir- really interesting early life in a joint family with lots of food stuff too.
    Nice recipe too!

    • gastrogeek

      Sharma – mmm it was lovely, thanks!
      cheers Uyen,t’was indeed most moreish…x
      Ireena- must check that out, I do adore Madhur Jaffrey and would love to know more about her life

  5. I too love “ghettoised” versions of indigenous classics”! I know my mum is not alone in rubbing an Indian spice mix onto lamb before roasting… the lamb gets served with the regular British vegetables but has that added kick and flavour!

    This dish looks delish!

  6. I love Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s writing, and the woman herself, she talks so much sense. I enjoyed her book and the hillarious chapter about her flight to England and the food and anedoctes being shared out on the plane. Anyway, it was lovely seeing you on Sunday. Lovely write up as always.

    • gastrogeek

      Kavey – that lamb sounds great, I often do the same to a nice leg of salt marsh…
      Luiz – she is way cool isn’t she? Such an honest and heartwarming book. Lovely to see you too!

  7. Conforting! I could dive into a dish of this right now… I am really getting into my Indian spices at the moment and have got all of the above to make the curry powder which would be very convenient to have ready in a jar. Thanks Rej!

  8. nom nom nom – seems like the only sensible thing to eat in this grizzly weather.

  9. Love cauliflower cheese and love curry so whats not to love about curried cauliflower cheese right?

    • gastrogeek

      Grafoo – cheers, let me know how you get on!
      Katy- indeed! Although I’m such a greedy-guts I’d probably have it in the Summer too.
      Gourmet Chick- thanks!

  10. I’ve never been a big fan of curried cheeses like paneer, but this looks great.

  11. Dan

    Never been a massive fan of cauliflower….except, strangely enough when it’s in curries. This dish was obviously MADE for someone like me hahahaha

    BTW – Reg – liking “my tastebuds were stretched both east and west in a glorious culinary tug of war.”

  12. Ah yes, Simon knows best 😉 This looks delish and makes perfect sense to me – curried cauli soup for example. let me think, how could you make that even better. Oh yeah – CHEESE.

    • gastrogeek

      Lizzie – thanks!
      Dan- cheers!
      Helen- he’s brilliant isn’t he? There are so many recipes in there I can’t wait to try. And yes, Cheese does make everything better. Always.

  13. I hated cauliflower cheese growing up, but this looks yummy! I think cauliflower is perfect for curry flavours.

  14. A really appealing recipe, I think cauliflower and the flavours of the spices assosciated with “curry” work very well together. Nicely done.

  15. I like the idea of bastardised cauliflower cheese. Never thought of currying it.

  16. I love the idea of currying cauliflower cheese. The perfect food for this horrid weather we’re having.

  17. gastrogeek

    LexEat! it does work well doesn’t it?
    Luigi – grazie – I’m pleased you like the sound of it!
    SarahMaisonCupcake – like a lot of bastardised things, it seems to work. Somehow.
    George – thanks!

  18. Lovely blog ! Envy your bengali roots. Takes me back to my first 7 yrs in Calcutta, and the associated sights and pujo smells and eats! Your culinary tug of war totally inspires me to explore some “bastardised” possibilities myself 🙂

  19. Pingback: Bangalore Express « Gastrogeek

  20. What a great idea. I experimented with Sherpa’s Pie (a spicy version of shepherd’s pie) the other day. It’s a lot of fun playing around with childhood classics. I bet your Curried Cauliflower Cheese was amazing. Will have to give it a go.

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