Why It Works
- Gently cooking the onions until lightly browned provides the dish with a more savory, caramelized flavor base.
- Blooming the cumin and mustard seeds in hot oil draws out their flavor and infuses it into the dish.
Cauliflower sabzi is a classic in our home; I grew up eating it and now I make it often for my family. “Sabzi” simply means “vegetables,” and it refers to a range of quick and easy recipes that can accommodate just about any vegetable you like. My mum would usually make this with potatoes—in which case it goes by the name alu gobhi, the famous Punjabi dish. Carrots and peas are often added to both the cauliflower and potato versions, leading to even more variations. I make it in many ways, ending up with varied flavors each time.
Sabzi is made all over India, with slight variations in the spices and flavorings depending on the region and family making it. The spices in my recipe are in the Punjabi style, and include cumin, coriander, turmeric, and the blend garam masala. They’re flavorful but basic: If you’ve ever cooked Indian food then you’re likely to have them in the cupboard, making this a very accessible sabzi to whip up anytime of the week.
The key is not to rush cooking the onion, because the savory caramelized notes that develop by lightly browning it form the perfect flavor base for this sabzi. Since sabzi is a “dry” preparation (which means it’s usually made with no gravy or sauce), I add just enough water to help cook the cauliflower but not enough to make it soupy. The cauliflower acts as the perfect sponge to absorb the lovely flavors of the warm spices.
You can enjoy sabzi with Indian flatbreads like chapati or naan but honestly, I often eat it simply with some generously buttered sourdough. It also makes a great side to serve with dal and rice. I also love using it in a winner of a vegetable-charged grilled cheese sandwich: Butter a couple slices of bread (sandwich bread or thick sourdough slices would both be good), spoon some sabzi on top, grate cheddar or another cheese over it, and grill until melty and crispy.
And if you happen to have leftovers, sabzi even tastes great cold, rolled up in a wrap for a packed lunch.