The book selected for this month is Climbing The Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey. Climbing The Mango Trees is an insight into India's history through the eyes of a young girl. She reminds us that beneath the politics and the violence of a troubled nation, there are children. They want to play and they want to eat and they pay close attention to the details of their days. I was touched by how memorable the family picnics and the foods of her girlhood were to Jaffrey. She loved her own Indian dishes and she thoroughly loved tasting the foods of her school friends that were different from hers. She describes all of those in wonderful detail. I remember my own childhood as a newcomer to this country, bringing my lunch to school where it was different from the lunches of my friends. Like Jaffrey, I thought their lunches were much more interesting than mine. I loved reading about the spices and flavors detailed in this book. I wanted to make one of her very own recipes rather than developing one of my own.I was particularly drawn to the cauliflower dish. My Mama made cauliflower by cooking it in salted water until it was almost tender. Then she drained it and added it to a skillet that had butter in it. She sauteed it until it began to brown and added bread crumbs, allowing them to absorb the flavors of the butter and cauliflower as they browned also. I didn't know until I was much older that our simple fried cauliflower was "Cauliflower Polonaise." It was my favorite sidedish. When I saw Jaffrey's cauliflower recipes, I had to try one of them. I made the Grandmother's Cauliflower with Cheese exactly as the recipe was written in the book, except that I had no hot green chilies (not allowed to use jalapeno or serrano chilies) so I increased the amount of cayenne a little and I used powdered cumin as I couldn't find whole cumin seeds.
I learned a new technique right at the beginning: she suggests grating tomatoes to make a puree. It worked to separate the skin, although the seeds remain.
After cauliflower florets are cooked in a skillet with cumin for a few minutes, the grated tomatoes, ginger, chilies, cayenne, turmeric, coriander and salt are added.
Fresh cilantro is added and mixture is transferred to a baking dish.
After adding cheese on top, the cauliflower is baked.
While my mother's cauliflower polonaise will always be my favorite, I love trying new flavors and this one was so very different. I especially loved it reheated the second day when the flavors had mellowed and blended. When I make it again, I'll prepare it the day before and reheat it for a meal. I am so excited about making more dishes from this book. Reading it made me feel that I had actually spent some time in the home of this family and making the foods puts me at their table.