This North Indian dish of cauliflower coated with a thick, mellow tomato-onion sauce is really a treasure. Dum cooking means slow cooking in a tightly sealed heavy pot, a form of steaming. Flavors intensify during the slow cooking, and the cauliflower is transformed into a meltingly tender vegetable. You can dum cook on the stove top, but we usually prefer to bake this so that the stove top is left free for other cooking, and so we can forget about it until it’s ready.
To dum cook over a wood or charcoal fire—the traditional way—the pot is buried in the ashes or coals, making a kind of Dutch oven. Like its close relative, clay-pot cooking, it’s a way of producing moist and tender dishes using little heat. The method is rather like the oop style of cooking in the Mekong region, or the “beggar’s chicken” tradition of Chinese cuisine, both of which rely on slow cooking in a tightly sealed container. Dum cooking seems to have come to the Subcontinent with the Moghuls and it’s still associated with Moghul cuisine.
Traditionally the lid is sealed by wrapping a strip of dough around the seam, so no steam can escape during cooking, but we’ve found that if we use a heavy pot with a tight-fitting heavy lid—cast-iron or Le Creuset—there’s no need to seal the lid. To make sure of a good seal, though, cover the pot with aluminum foil before you put the lid on. If you want to take the traditional route and make the dough, see Chicken Biryani, Dum Style (page 102), for details.
- 1 medium cauliflower (about 1½ pounds)
- ¼ cup ghee, vegetable oil, or peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 or 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic or garlic mashed to a paste
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger or ginger mashed to a paste
- About 1 cup grated onion
- Scant 1 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon coriander, preferably freshly ground
- ½ teaspoon garam masala (page 342 or store-bought)
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 2 green cayenne chiles, stemmed and slit lengthwise
- Scant 1 cup water
- 2 to 3 tablespoons coriander leaves (optional)
- Trim off the cauliflower leaves and the tough core.
- Cut into large florets, wash well, and set aside.
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Place a deep heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat.
- Add the ghee or oil, then add the cauliflower and cook (if it doesn’t all fit comfortably, fry it in two batches), turning the cauliflower florets every 2 to 3 minutes to brown them evenly, until they are touched all over with brown, 7 to 8 minutes.
- To keep the oil from spattering, keep the pot partially covered as the florets fry.
- Remove the cauliflower (tongs are the easiest way) and set aside.
- Place the pot back over medium heat and toss in the cumin seeds and bay leaves.
- As soon as the seeds start to splutter, about a minute or less, add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry briefly.
- Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften and turn light brown all through, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, salt, ground coriander, garam masala, cayenne, and turmeric and stir to blend in
- Cook, stirring frequently, until you see the oil rise (you’ll notice a gleam on the surface of the flavor paste), 6 to 7 minutes.
- Add the chiles and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until they shine bright green with oil.
- Add the water, stir well, and raise the heat to bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The flavor paste will be thick and wet.
- Add the cauliflower to the pot and gently stir and turn until well coated with the spice paste.
- Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pot to seal and then put the lid on top (or seal it with dough; see headnote).
- Transfer the pot to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Release the steam by lifting off the lid, opening it away from you to avoid the hot steam. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.
- Spoon the cauliflower and sauce into a shallow bowl and garnish with the coriander leaves, if you wish.
Serve to accompany Chickpea Pulao (page 105) or a meal of rice, Tikka Kebabs (page 256) or Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Kebabs (page 239), and lightly cooked greens or a green salad.
Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent
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