When Camille shared this month’s theme, I immediately knew what I wanted to say on the topic. It’s a weird thing to say that the thing I have had to be most brave about with myself is my culture. There was a long period of time during my teen years where I hate to say, I was embarrassed of my culture and who I was. Though it does make me feel better now to talk to other people in my shoes who say that in their youth, they too were self-conscious about seeming “too Indian” around friends and peers, coming to embrace my entire identity as an Indian-American wasn’t easy. My parents settled down in Houston in the early 90s and raised me and my younger brother in the ‘burbs, but growing up, I didn’t have any friends who were Indian like me. Like most young teens, the pressure to fit in and be like everyone else is something that weighs on you all the time, and that was no different for me. So for a long time, I separated my life into the Indian side of myself, and the American side. It was only after going to college and being around other people like me and being a part of a group of people who truly celebrate our culture, that I started to realize how wonderful a thing it is to embrace your whole identity and to share that with others. It was actually those last couple years of school when I decided that I was going to be brave enough to finally start my blog and use it as a platform to share my own journey with embracing my culture through food and sharing my experience as an Indian-American.
Of course my own experience is not and should not be considered the poster for every second-generation kids’ story, but to even be able to share my own journey and create visibility for my culture means the world. Food has been my way of choosing to do that as I really do feel it connects us all and brings us all to the table, no matter where we are from. So in celebration of my true self, this month I’m sharing one of my favorite vegetarian version of a dish that most of y’all are likely already familiar with – Butter Chicken (Cauliflower)!
A big part of embracing my culture came when I was studying abroad in London and did marketing work with the most amazing Indian restaurant in the city. The most fun thing about the group of people who worked there was that everyone came from such different backgrounds – some from England itself, some from Lithuania, Australia, Ireland, you name it. All of these people were here at this Indian restaurant and working together to create the most amazing dinner experience you could imagine, and they all loved the little traditions and cultural aspects that were shared from India. So this here pile of ingredients is my little homage to that place in London that showed me how great it is to embrace the things that make me, me. And of course to create my own version of the dish that they did so well and people simply raved about!
My mom didn’t make anything quite like Butter Chicken in our house growing up, I mean we don’t cook meat at the house but aside from that fact, Butter Chicken was strictly a restaurant dish or just another option at gatherings we went to. We of course would slide over to the vegetarian versions of the dish when out, and even without the chicken, there’s something so insanely perfect about getting a serving of that bright orange gravy filled with so much flavor.
When I started recipe testing, it was amazing how just the aroma of the gravy in this dish could bring back so many specific memories. Certain restaurants we went to as a family, specific weddings we attended where the smell of Butter Chicken gravy being served could make my mouth water, and the warmth of those garam masala spices taking me back home to my own mom’s kitchen all came up as I was blending the spices and prepping the cauliflower. That reason alone is always a reminder to me of the power food has in transporting us back to memories and bringing other people into your own experience.
While this is a bit more of a time-consuming dish than I usually share, it’s 100% worth it. There’s a reason Butter Chicken is on almost every menu at an Indian restaurant – it’s just so freaking good. You’ll be amazed at how delicious this is without ordering from the takeout menu. Serve it up alongside some of your other favorite dishes, and make extra, because you’ll definitely be going back for seconds.
Before I go make another batch of this dish, I have to give a big thank you to Camille for offering up a little corner of the internet to share my culture with y’all. Here’s the thing, I’m definitely not done learning about my own culture, it will always be a work in progress for me. But to be able to share these recipes and a little glimpse into my own experience through food with you guys on this platform means the world, and I hope y’all end up loving this recipe as much as I do!
to prep the cauliflower ::
- 1 cup of greek yogurt
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 2 inches of ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
for the sauce and assembly ::
- 6 tbsp of butter, divided
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cardamom pods, crushed
- 3 cloves
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/2 jalapeño, chopped - you can add more if you prefer more heat!
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 inches ginger, chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp garam masala
- 1/2 tbsp turmeric
- 2 15 oz cans of tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- cilantro, yogurt, rice, naan, etc. for serving
to prep the cauliflower ::
- in a large bowl, add the yogurt, grated garlic and ginger, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
- add the cauliflower florets into the yogurt mix and stir to evenly coat all the florets.
- cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in the fridge for 2 - 3 hours, but overnight if possible.
for the sauce and assembly ::
- add 3 tbsp of the butter to a large dutch oven pot and bring up to a medium heat and melt the butter.
- add the cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves to the melted butter and cook for about 2 minutes, until the spices start to become fragrant.
- add the diced onion, jalapeño, salt, and pepper to the butter and cook for a few minutes, until the onion starts to become translucent, stirring occasionally.
- add the garlic and ginger and cook for another 2 minutes.
- add the garam masala and turmeric and stir to combine, until the onions are all evenly coated with the spices. cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. continue to simmer the sauce for about 45 minutes, until the tomato sauce has reduced and become thick, similar to a ragu texture.
- while the sauce is reducing, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- line a sheet tray with foil. grab the yogurt-marinated cauliflower from the fridge and arrange the florets into an even layer on the sheet tray.
- bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the florets just start to turn golden brown.
- remove from the oven and set aside.
- once the sauce has reduced, remove from the heat after the mixture has finished cooking. remove the cinnamon stick from the sauce.
- add the tomato sauce into a high power blender and start blending on low speed. dice up the other 3 tbsp of butter and add to the blender a few pieces at a time. then add the heavy cream to the blender and bring up the blending speed. blend for about 2 - 3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth. taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. if you want a thinner sauce, you can always add an extra splash of heavy cream or water.
- add the blended sauce back into the pot and bring up to a medium heat.
- add the roasted cauliflower into the sauce and stir to evenly coat the cauliflower. cook for another couple of minutes until everything is heated through.
- remove from heat.
- serve topped with fresh chopped cilantro and with naan or rice on the side. enjoy!