There is something about the November air. The gradual transition from the not-so-cold to a chill autumn with the winter sun shining bright at times, and the mercury dripping to sub zero at other, feels magical to me. The poem below perfectly captures my feeling.
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.
With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.
The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.”
― Clyde Watson
It’s almost the end of another year. And this time of the year, although chilly and dark, makes up for itself by letting us celebrate and blend in the festive mood. While away from home in the US, thanksgiving is fast approaching, back home (India) it was Diwali, the festival of lights, that went by. A time of the year when the family gathers over customs, traditions, fire crackers, and food. Like me, for a lot of folks that live away from home, fond memories of November and the warmth and the chill (ironic, yet magical) is the raison detre of the Diwali night (it might look like a far fetched emotion, but trust me such days do that to you).
My fondest memory of the day is (not-surprisingly) a simple flaked rice concoction that grandma made. Milk, coconut, banana, and other fruits went into pre-soaked flaked rice and the outcome was something I loved (still do, but I have been deprived of it since moving away) from the bottom of my heart. There is not much I can put into words to describe the concoction further, because it is a grandma’s recipe, and like every grandma’s recipe, it is unique and I won’t be able to really do justice to it completely. I can only eat it and appreciate it and get emotional and eventually melodramatic, and so on. Hence, I will just leave it at the idea and essence of the dish, and my immense love for it, which is the premise for this write-up.
I have grown up eating dishes that are an epitome of “simple and tasty”. And the idea of creating wonders in the simplest forms is the challenging part in the kitchen. I do not think I ever appreciated the effort and talent back then. I just appreciated the taste. I was as distant from the kitchen as I could get. Hence, with time when it became incumbent upon me to feed myself, I entered the kitchen without knowing any technique whatsoever, but only with an idea of what a certain dish should taste like. And donning a fancy apron and (over) confidence, a few ladle strokes later, there was food as distant from that idea of taste, as it could get. Only then did I appreciate the dexterity beneath simplicities. And a few ladle strokes weren’t going to get me any far. I had to reverse engineer. In the process, there blossomed an interest and further appreciation of not only the mere act of cooking (and baking), but also the gastronomy. The good it did to me was bring back further fond memories of food that I do not see anymore. These memories then became the foundation of experimenting with and blending cultures in the form of cooking. Linking each dish to a memory added that extra flavor to it and provoked the taste buds in ways similar to what grandma’s and mom’s dishes do. Thus, keeping it simple came in handy to me because at the outset I started with a taste in mind (thanks to the two generations above me), and worked my way back to the basics and forward again to recreate ( in spirit, if not completely in taste) the magic in different ways, blending my taste memories with my fresh experiences thus far. One such outcome was this (obviously simple) pie!
Autumn and pies are utterly concomitant. The November mood accompanied with a pinch of nostalgia prompted me to bake. So I decided taking into account all the inputs of November (weather, food trend, festive mood to name a few), that pie it shall be! And because of the emotional effect that November had on me, the dish had to be undoubtedly linked to a memory. It has all the subtle flavors of both the generations, and in addition showcases my passion and learning thus far. In short, this dish is a result of my fond memories of mom-made mashed potatoes, with a classic American twist (thanks to thanksgiving!), and also my bizarre obsession with shepherd’s pie. Only instead of the ground lamb, I have ground cauliflower!
- For the Cauliflower filling -
- 1. 1 medium cauliflower - cut into very tiny florets
- 2. 1 tbsp butter
- 3. 1 tsp oil (vegetable, refined or mustard)
- 4. 2 green chillies minced
- 5. ½ tsp turmeric
- 6. ½ tsp salt (to taste)
- 7. 1 tsp coriander powder
- 8. 1 tsp cumin-dried red chilli powder
- For the potato pie crust -
- 1. 4 medium potatoes (150 g each)
- 2. 1.5 tbsp butter
- 3. 2.5 tbsp sour cream
- 4. 1 tbsp whole milk
- 5. ½ tsp pepper
- 6. ½ tsp salt (to taste)
- 7. ½ tsp lemon zest
- 8. pinch of paprika (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Heat the butter and oil in a medium sized pan.
- Add the minced green chillies.
- Add the cauliflower florets, followed by the turmeric and salt. Sauté them well and then cover the pan with a lid for the florets to cook well in medium heat.
- Once the florets lose their water, and begin to become soft (where you can ground them further with a wooden spatula), add the coriander powder followed by the cumin-dried red chili powder.
- Mix well, and cook until the florets are further soft. Switch off the flame (or induction). Use a masher and mash it further if need be for further ground florets.
- Boil the potatoes (with skin) in a pressure cooker or the microwave oven (approx. 15 min).
- Peel the skin, and then mash the potatoes well in a medium-sized bowl.
- Add the butter, sour cream, milk, ¼ tsp lemon zest, a pinch of paprika and ¼ tsp pepper. Mash well and mix it to form a creamy mashed potato mixture.
- Spread the ground cauliflower mixture in the bottom of a 9" pie dish.
- Layer the creamy mashed potato on top, and spread it uniformly well to cover the entire area of the pie dish.
- Garnish with the remaining pepper and lemon zest.
- Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.
- Voila! Cool it for a bit. Serve as is or with any gravy of your choice.
- P.S. Adjust the salt according to your taste. Given that you are adding salt to both the cauliflower and the potatoes, you might want to adjust the quantity as you want. You can prepare the filling while the potatoes boil. Parallel tasking.The cumin-dried red chili powder is prepared by toasting cumin seeds and dried red chillies on a pan and then grinding them into a powder (It's a common spice mix in the eastern state of India, called Odisha. The two generations above use it, so I had to add it to give the pie a personal touch!