Curried chickpeas and cauliflower in spicy rich tomato sauce

Chickpea cauliflower curry

Chickpea cauliflower curry

I’ve been very fascinated by three words, lately, and I’m going to tell you why. These words are poignant, piquante, and pungent. Why do I love them? I love them because they teeter so wonderfully on the edge! They hover between senses, and they could evoke pleasure, pain, or some place that falls between the two! I love the way that, historically, they can be used to describe words, ideas, tastes, smells, expressions, or even hedgehog quills. They’re so keen and vibrant and cutting! According to my (shoddy) research, they all stem from a similar root. (I learned this while sitting on the couch next to Malcolm on a snowy evening, drinking a glass of wine and reading a dictionary. Honestly, what could be better than that?) They’re all the descendants of words that mean “to prick or to sting.” At one time, a piquant was a sharp object, like a hedgehog quill. From 1494, “The herichon…is…armyt…with spines thornys or pickandis.” And pungent described a sharp and pricking pain. From 1617, “The Vrine bloody, the Excrements purulent, and the Dolour pricking or pungent.” Each of these words also describes a flavor or smell that is sharp and piercing, sometimes pleasantly so, sometimes not. From The Canterbury Tales, “Wo was his cook but if his sauce were poynaunt and sharp.” Each word also describes ideas that are sharply or cleverly expressed. From 1661, “No author hat so pungent passages against the Pride and Covetousness of the Court of Rome.” Sometimes the effect of these words is painful or wounding. From 1651, “By some picquant words or argutenesse to put them into choler.” Piquant, pungent and poignant all describe something stimulating to the mind, feelings, or passions. From 1668, “That our Delights thereby may become more poinant and triumphant.” From Jane Eyre, “Besides, the eccentricity of the proceeding was piquant: I felt interested to see how he would go on.” From 1850, “Every amusement and all literature become more pungent.” But sometimes the emotion provoked is so strong as to become painful or unbearable, just as a scent or taste might be too sharp or spicy or sour to be palatable. From 1684, “Intolerably pungent grief and sorrow.” From 1728, “This final Answer threw the King of Portugal into the most poinant Despair.” Everything is connected! Words and ideas have flavor, scents stimulate the mind, emotions and tastes are so wonderfully provoking that it’s almost too much to bear! Mr. Rochester understood this, he describes falling in love with Jane, “…I was an intellectual epicure, and wished to prolong the gratification of making this novel and piquant acquaintance…” I love the idea of anything felt so strongly, both bitter and sweet, as life is, but fully tasted, fully explored, fully felt.

And this was a piquant dish! It’s loosely based on an Indian Makhani recipe. Makhani means “with butter,” and this does have some butter and a little bit of cream, so it’s quite rich. But it also has tomatoes and spices to keep it lively. The cauliflower is roasted separately and added at the end, stirred in carefully because it’s delicate and flavorful.

Here are Jordi Savall and Christophe Coin playing St. Colombe’s poignant Les Pleurs.


1/2 a large cauliflower, florets only, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 or 1 T olive oil, to coat
1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 t red pepper flakes
3 T butter
1 shallot – minced
1 clove garlic – minced
4 black cardamom pods
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 t cumin
1 t smoked paprika
1/2 t coriander
1/4 t each nutmeg and allspice
1/3 cup cream
1 t salt
juice of one lemon
plenty of black pepper
plenty of fresh cilantro, washed and chopped, to serve

Preheat the oven to 425. Lightly coat the cauliflower in olive oil, and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for about 20 to 25 minutes, till soft inside, crispy outside, and brown in places.

In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatoes, ginger and red pepper flakes, and process till smooth.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots, garlic and black cardamom pods. Stir and cook until the shallots start to brown – 5 – 8 minutes. Add the cumin, paprika, coriander, nutmeg and allspice. Give it a quick stir and then immediately add the tomato sauce. Cook for another 5 – 8 minutes until it’s thickened considerably. Add the chickpeas, salt and cream. Cook for a few more minutes. You can add a bit of water at this point to make it as saucy as you like it.

Gently stir in the cauliflower. Add the lemon and black pepper. Stir in the cilantro just before you serve.

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