Quick Cauliflower Curry

October 17, 2006 at 6:22 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), Cruciferous rich, Derek's faves, Indian, Mom’s recipes, Quick weeknight recipe, To test on plan, Vegetable dishes)

This is my mom’s lightening-fast cauliflower curry, which uses almost entirely pantry and freezer ingredients (e.g. no fresh ginger or garlic or onions). Despite its simplicity, it’s an excellent version of a traditional Americanized cauliflower curry. I like it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, plain or served with dal or rice or yogurt. This recipe is quite forgiving, so if you’re missing a spice or vegetable, you can probably just leave it out without changing the flavor of the dish substantially.

Yields: 4 cups Serving size: 2 cups Servings: 2 main-dishes or 4 side-dishes Heat over medium heat in a large, heavy pot with lid:

  • 2 Tbs. oil

When hot add:

  • 1.5 tsp. dark mustard seeds

When the mustard seeds starts to pop (it should be just a few seconds), take the pan off the heat and stir in:

  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander, ground
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin, ground
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. curry powder

Add, and stir until coated:

  • 3/4 cup diced, red potato (1/3 inch cubes) [about 1 medium red potato]

Meanwhile prepare the cauliflower and add to the pan:

  • 1/2 head medium cauliflower (about 1.25? lbs after removing leaves and core), sliced
  • 1/4 cup water

Stir to mix, then cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, adding more water if needed. Add and cook for 1 minute:

  • 1 cup frozen peas

Shake on:

  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • a shake or two of crushed red pepper
  • 1.5 Tbs. lemon juice

Stir in:

  • 1 Tbs. tomato sauce or 1/2 cup diced canned tomatoes

My Notes

The colors of the peas and tomatoes contrast beautifully with the golden cauliflower, and they add some sweetness. The potato adds its own great earthy flavor. I sometimes add two or three potatoes and decrease the cauliflower amount, but the recipe calls for only one potato so that the cauliflower is really the center of attention. The cauliflower is “sliced” into pieces rather than being broken into florets, because when you slice it you’ll cut through the cells, and the cauliflower will absorb the spices better. There are still a number of question marks in this recipe, since my mom tends not to measure things. I need to double check all the amounts, but the basic recipe is an excellent quick vegetable dish. After I posted this my mom emailed me that this isn’t quite the recipe she uses nowadays. She said she uses 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. turmeric, and no coriander or cumin. She always precooks the potato and adds it after the cauliflower is cooked, then the peas last. Regarding curry powders, I find that there’s a huge variation in quality among different brands. Lately I’ve been using Penzey’s, which is very good.  If you’re not liking the one you have, try some different brands. Rating: B Derek: B+

Update May 2018:

Here’s a slightly modified, slightly larger version of my Mom’s recipe above. It makes approximately 4 meals, if it’s all you’re having for dinner. If you eat it with a dal or other bean dish, it would probably make 6 servings.


  • 12 ounces (340g) of potato, cut into small pieces
  • 2 lbs (907g) cauliflower florets and core (weighed after removing leaves and tough parts of the core). I think it’s about 8 cups cauliflower florets, maybe about 2.5  or 3 pounds in the store, depending on how many leaves are still on the cauliflower.
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, in long slivers (optional, first cut the ginger lengthwise into thin slices, and then stack the slices and cut them crosswise into thin slivers)
  • 4 Tbs. oil
  • 2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 4 whole dried red chilies (optional) or shake on crushed red pepper afterwards
  • 1.5 cups peeled and finely chopped tomato
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (optional, probably omit?)
  • 1 to 2 Tbs. lemon juice (optional, maybe omit)
  • 1/4 cup water (I use the water that I cooked the potatoes in)

Spice mixture:

  • 1.5 – 1.75 tsp. fine salt
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp. ground turmeric (maybe even 1 tsp?)
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)


  1. Cut your potatoes and cook them a bit, either in the microwave or steam them until about halfway to cooked. I usually put them in a microwavable bowl with a few tablespoons of water, and cook them in the microwave for around 3 minutes.
  2. While your potatoes are cooking, cut your cauliflower into florets and your ginger into slivers. Prepare the spice mixture.
  3. In a large heavy pot with a lid (I use a 6-quart cast iron dutch oven pan), heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds start to pop (after just a few seconds), stir in the spice mixture.
  4. Immediately add the potatoes and cauliflower, and stir until they are coated with the spice mixture. Saute briefly, until the cauliflower starts picking up light brown spots.
  5. Add 1 cup of chopped tomatoes and 1/2 cup of water, cover, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, adding more water if needed. When the cauliflower is just about cooked, add 1 cup frozen peas, garlic powder if using, lemon juice if using, and crushed red pepper if using.
  6. Serve with yogurt and chopped coriander (optional).

Next time I’m curious to try this recipe for the perfect Aloo Gobi. Below is the ingredient list for comparison. It calls for nigella seeds but no black mustard seeds, and onions and garlic. But it doesn’t use ground cumin, and it calls for garam masala instead of curry powder. The technique is also different. You fry the potatoes and then the cauliflower in the oil, then remove them to make the sauce, then put the potatoes back in for a bit, then add the cauliflower and cook until everything is soft. I suspect the recipe is smaller than mine, as it only calls for a medium head of cauliflower, which the internet generally says weighs around 575g, or around 20 ounces. Here is the recipe x 1.5 for comparison.

(Serves 6)
6 tbsp oil
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp nigella seeds (but no black mustard seed)
525g (18.5 ounces) waxy potatoes, cut into rough 2.5cm dice
1.5 medium cauliflowers, cut into florets and chunks of stalk slightly larger than the potato
1.5 yellow onion, finely sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1.5 tbsp grated ginger
1.5 tins of plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 Tbs. coriander seeds, toasted in a dry pan and ground
3/4 – 1.5 tsp medium chilli powder
3/4 tsp turmeric
3-6 small green chillies, slit along their length
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tbsp methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
1.5 tsp garam masala
Juice of 3/4 a lime
1.5 small bunches of fresh coriander, chopped

Update October 2015:

I made the recipe for cauliflower with potatoes cooked with fenugreek and fennel seeds, from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East cookbook, and we thought it was okay but not great. The recipe calls for 2 pounds cauliflower (1 smallish head), and we weren’t sure if the 2 pounds were before or after removing the stem and leaves. We decided before, and so used less than 2 pounds of cut cauliflower. We cut the olive oil down from 6 tablespoons to 3 tablespoons.

The recipe has you soak the cauliflower and potatoes in cold water for half an hour, then drain them and dry them on a dish towel. But it doesn’t say what this achieves? The spice mixture was fine, but Derek accidentally added the coriander as whole seeds instead of ground, so the dish ended up having a bit of extra coriander taste. Overall, we thought the recipe was fine, but we liked the other two standard cauliflower curries we make better. I missed the green peas and a bit of lemon and spice.


  • 2 pounds cauliflower (1 smallish head)
  • 2 medium-sized boiling potatoes (about 3/4 pound)
  • 6 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 tsp. whole fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp. whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 1 to 2 dried hot red peppers (we used 2)
  • 3/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander (we used 1 tsp. whole + 1 tsp. ground by mistake)
  • 1 to 1 1/4 tsp. salt (we used 1 tsp. fine sea salt)
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (essential!)
  • 1 tsp. garam masala

Method: Soak and dry the vegetables. In a 12-inch skillet add the oil. When very hot add the seeds nad dried chilies. Stir once, add the vegetables and reduce to medium. Add the turmeric, coriander, salt and pepper and saute for about 8 to 10 miutes. Add 1/4 cup of water and cover immediately. Turn to very low and steam for about 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle on the garam masala and serve.

Here is a quick comparison to the Madhur Jaffrey cauliflower curry (bhaji) recipe on my blog:

Mom’s Jaffrey’s
2 Tbs. oil 3 Tbs. oil
1.5 tsp. dark mustard seeds 1/2 tsp. brown mustard seeds + 1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1/2 – 1 tsp. salt 3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder 1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. curry powder + (optionally) 1/2 tsp. ground coriander + 1/2 tsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. ground coriander + 1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup water 1/4 cup water
1/2 head medium cauliflower (about 1-1.25? lbs edible portion), sliced + 1 cup frozen peas (134g) + 3/4 cup diced, red potato (1/3 inch cubes) [about 1 medium red potato, ~100g]  4 heaped cups cauliflower florets (According to the USDA database 4 cups of chopped cauliflower weighs 15 ounces.  So 4 cups of florets probably weighs about 16 ounces?)
1/4 tsp. garlic powder + 1.5 Tbs. lemon juice 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, in thin slivers (~12g?)
a shake or two of crushed red pepper 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper + 2 whole, dried, hot red chilies
1 Tbs. tomato sauce or 1/2 cup diced canned tomatoes 1/2 cup peeled and finely chopped tomato

Update October 2012:

I made a mix of these two recipes today for lunch.  I used 2 Tbs. of oil, which I thought was plenty, and 1 tsp. of mustard seeds and 1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds.  I like how the cumin seeds taste when you bite into one.  After the mustard seeds started to pop I added 12g of ginger slivers and one potato (100g, not red) to the pan.  I didn’t cook the potato first but I diced it small.  Then I added half a head of a normal-sized cauliflower.  After removing the stem the half weighed exactly 1 pound and provided slightly more than 4 cups of florets.  Once the potatoes and cauliflower started to brown I poured in the spices mixed with water:  1/2 tsp. turmeric powder, the curry + coriander + cumin amounts from my  mom, 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. cayenne.  I’m not sure I like the cayenne.  1/4 tsp. was enough to make it quite spicy, but I felt like the heat didn’t meld with the other spices.  Next time I’ll go back to my mom’s crushed chili flakes.  I used the garlic powder but only 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice.  I chopped up 1/2 cup of (unpeeled) tomatoes and added a whole cup of peas.  In the end the dish didn’t taste right to me.  It tasted somehow both under and oversalted, and the seasonings didn’t seem to permeate into the inside of the vegetables.  The dish tasted somehow flat.  Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough?  The cauliflower and potatoes were soft, but perhaps they should have been falling apart?  Something wasn’t right.


  1. Brigitte Pientka said,

    Hello Rose,

    I just tried your curry, and we really like it. It was very quick, and delicious. I added some Mango chutney in the end.

    Rating: B+
    Dirk: B+

    I hope you are enjoying Germany!


  2. captious said,

    Thanks Brigitte. I’m glad that you liked it, and I was very excited to see that you even rated the recipe. A true scientist!

  3. Linda said,

    very easy recipe – I find many curries have alot of ingredients and that can be challenging. I used the recipe with your mom’s changes and it was very good. I may need to freshen my curry powder because I doubled it for more flavour.

  4. Back to normal life « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] curry with potatoes, peas, and tomatoes. Mom’s or Madhur […]

  5. Kada said,

    We didn’t have all the ingredients for aloo gobi this evening, and had a cauliflower that NEEDED to be cooked. We tried this recipe and it is something we’ll definitely be making again. Thanks! It’s delicious.

  6. Linda said,

    I’d say the main problem with your second version was adding the water to the spices before heating them… you stopped them releasing their essential oils, didn’t give them a chance to cook off the raw flavour and boiled/stewed them instead of dry cooking.

    I agree about the whole cumin. I’m constantly frustrated trying to find some that isn’t already ground!

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