Learn how to make Vegan Gobi Musallam ~ Whole roasted cauliflower cooked in mildly spiced creamy cashew and coconut gravy
When I think of lavish, one of a kind centre piece for lavish (vegetarian/vegan) dinner party, the first dish that comes to my mind is Gobi Musallam. Some dishes are not found in any restaurants and this Gobi Musallam is one such dish where whole roasted cauliflower in a creamy makhani gravy. This stunning Gobi Musallam is one dish which is truly inspiring and impressive where a humble cauliflower is elevated to gourmet standard. This is one dish that always grabs attention from my guests whenever I cooked for them and it is one dish that has never let me down when it comes to its flavour. It’s an impressive dish to look at and also in taste with delicately balanced combination of assorted whole spices which lends amazing flavour. I am mighty excited to share this recipe that is sure to win hearts of even pickiest eaters.
The recipe is inspired by the whole stuffed chicken roast called Murgh Musallam where a whole chicken is marinated, sometimes stuffed with boiled eggs and keema (minced lamb meat), and cooked in a rich makhani gravy flavoured with whole spices. Considered as a gourmet dish, Ibn Battuta describes Murg Musallam as one of the favoured sishes at the court of Sulan Muhammad Ibn Tughlaq (1345 AD), in the book ‘Tracing the boundaries between Hindi and Urdu’. In Ain-e-Akbari (or Constitution of Akbar, 16th century detailed document recording the administration of emperor Akbar’s empire), Murg Mussalm is referred as Mussammn. Abul Fazl, the author of Akbarnama (or Book of Akbar, is the official chronicle of the reign of Akbar) and Ain-e-Akbari, one of the nine gems (Navaratna) in Akbar’s court mentions Murgh Musallm as one of the thirty dishes served in royal court in emperor Akbar’s biography 'Akbarnama'.
But what is more interesting is the type of spices used, the method of cooking, meat and boiled egg stuffing of the Mussammanin dish in Abul Fazl’s Ain-e-Akbari is almost similar to the roast fowl recipe used in Europe in the middle ages as mentioned in the 14th century Latin book Tractatus. Bisma Tirmizi in her article Food Stories: Murg Mussalam writes that the current version of serving whole chicken at dinner parties are in fact roast chicken and not Murgh Musallam as the spices used are tad western, the boiled eggs were never an accompaniment and it was never stuffed with lamb keema (mincemeat) as in original shahi/royal recipes as noted in Ain-e-Akbari.
Despite its widespread usage, cinnamon was the best kept secret of the Arab traders. Arabs transported the spice through the cumbersome land route, the supply was limited and the usage of the spice became a status symbol. Hence the use of cinnamon in the European fowl roast of the middle ages, as mentioned in Tractatus, and Musammanas described in the Ain-e-Akbari is not only similar, but it’s usage in the making of this chicken recipe by both cultures just reveals the fact about the whole chicken being a rich man’s food for centuries.
Lizzie Collingham in her fabulous book Curry: A tale of Cooks and Conquerors unveils that many of the Mughalai dishes and other regional cuisines of India and Indian subcontinents are influenced by the food cultures of many foreign invaders (from Persia, Middle-East, Afghanistan, Portuguese, French, Dutch, British). The arrival of Portuguese explorers during the reign of first Mughal emperor Babur resulted in arrival of many new ingredients (potatoes, chilli peppers, cinnamon etc.) and cooking techniques from central Asia, Persia and Europe to Indian subcontinents. Bisma Tirmizi narrates that it may be safe to say that it may have been the British who contributed their passion for roast chicken and the sub-continental cooks during Mughal empire may have been inspired to cook it with native spices such as cardamoms and black peppers to give birth to this delecatable dish what we know as Murgh Musallum. (Source: Food Stories by Bisma Tirmizi)
The recipe I am going to share is without the mincemeat and a boiled egg stuffing. In fact, I am sharing vegan version of Murgh Musallam with you today where I am using a whole head of humble cauliflower. It may taste quite different to the original chicken dish, but it is truly finger-licking good and has won the hearts of all my hard core non-vegetarian foodies with its complex flavour combination. The masala s deep and rich with perfect balance of spices harmoniously blended together in a creamy makhani gravy without any cream or butter.
Whenever I make rich makhani/buttery gravy, I prefer to use whole spices instead of ready to use grounded spice powders. I believe in the magic of freshly roasted and ground spices that will wake even the dead! Alright, I know I can get carried away when it comes to singing the praises of spices. :) For this recipe of Gobi Musallam I have used an array of whole spices which I first roasted with little oil before grinding them with other ingredients for the rich and creamy gravy base. This ground paste not only used in making the gravy, but also as a marinade to cover the whole head of cauliflower before roasting. I have used coconut milk to give creamy base to the gravy along with cashew nuts. You can replace the coconut milk with fresh cream if you are not too fond of the taste of coconut.
The heady aroma and flavour of freshly roasted and ground spices, the sweetness of caramalised onions, a hint of tartness from tomatoes, rich and creaminess of coconut milk and the nutty flavour of cashew nuts elevates this Gobi Musallam to the gourmet level that is sure to impress even the pickiest dinner guests. As deep and complex as it might sound, this Vegan Gobi Musallam is one of the easiest recipes from my party recipe repertoire. Don’t believe me? Well, then it’s time to try it and see for yourself… :) So here is Vegan Gobi Musallam, from my kitchen to yours…
Vegan Gobi Musallam (Whole roasted cauliflower cooked in mildly spiced creamy cashew and coconut gravy)
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cooking Time: 45 mins
Recipe Level: Easy/Beginner to Intermediate
Spice Level: Low to Medium
Serves: 5-6 people
Shelf Life: Best served fresh, but can be refrigerated for 2-3 days
Serving Suggestion: With any Indian flat breads (Whole Wheat Naan or Butter Naan or with any stuffed parathas) or plain/flavoured Basmati rice
1 small Cauliflower (about a size of palm)
½ tsp Haldi/Turmeric Powder
1 tsp Salt
For Makhani Gravy:
1 large or 1 cup Onion, peeled and roughly chopped
3 medium Tomatoes, roughly chopped
3-4 large cloves of Garlic, peeled and sliced
1 inch Ginger, peeled and chopped
1 cup thick Coconut Milk (fresh or from a tin/can)
10 – 12 whole Cashew Nuts
1 tsp Sugar
Salt to taste
1 tbsp Oil
Spices Used for Makhani Gravy:
1 inch Cinnamon Stick
1-2 Bay Leaves
5-6 Green Cardamoms
1 small Star Anise
1 tsp Jeera/Cumin Seeds
1 tsp Saunf/Fennel Seeds
1 tbsp Dhania/Coriander Seeds
3-4 Dry Red Chillies (I used a combination of Kashmiri Chillies and the spicy ones)
1 tbsp Kasuri Methi/Dry Fenugreek Leaves
½ tsp Haldi/Turmeric Powder
¼ tsp Hing/Asafoetida (Optional, but recommended)
1-2 tbsp Coriander Leaves, finely chopped
1 small Onion, peeled and sliced into rings
- Remove the leaves and stem from cauliflower and wash it thoroughly.
- Chop the vegetables for the gravy (onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger) and keep them aside.
- Soak the cashew nuts in hot water for 5-10 mins.
- If using fresh coconut milk, prepare the coconut milk and keep it aside.
Proceed to cook:
- Take a pan, large enough to hold the head of cauliflower, and add enough water to immerse the entire cauliflower. Add turmeric powder and salt to taste and bring it to boil. Once the water comes to a boil, place the cauliflower in the water and cover and cook for 3-4 mins. Remove the lid and flip the cauliflower and turn off the flame. Let it sit in hot water for 4-5 mins. Drain all the water and keep the partially cooked cauliflower in the side until needed.
- While the cauliflower is cooking, prepare the makhani gravy by heating ½ tbsp. oil in a pan on medium flame. Once hot, add cinnamon stick, cloves, green cardamoms, bay leaves and the star anise. Let them sizzle in a hot oil for about 30 seconds.
- Next add cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds and dry red chillies and fry them by stirring continuously for 40-60 seconds until the spices change colour to deeper shades of brown. Do take care not to burn the spices as burnt spices will make the gravy taste bitter.
- Transfer the roasted spices to mixer grinder/food processor. In the same pan, heat the remaining ½ tbsp. oil on medium flame and once hot, add finely chopped garlic. Fry the garlic for about 2 minutes until the edges turn golden brown.
- Add roughly chopped onions and ginger along with a tsp of sugar and a generous pinch of salt. The sugar helps in caramelising the onions and the salt helps to cook the onions quickly. Sauté the onions for 2-3 minutes until they turn golden brown.
- Next add chopped tomatoes, turmeric powder and half of kasuri methi/dried fenugreek leaves and cook them until the tomatoes soften and release their juice, about 3 mins.
- Drain all the water from the soaked cashew nuts and add the cashew nuts to the pan and mix well. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cook down to room temperature.
- Transfer the onion and tomato mixture to the mixer grinder/food processor and grind them to smooth paste along with the roasted spices without adding any water.
- Transfer the ground spice and onion mixture back into the pan and fry them for 2-3 minutes on medium flame. Add remaining kasuri methi and mix them well.
- Next add the coconut milk and salt to taste and bring the gravy to gentle boil. The gravy should be fairly thick enough to coat the cauliflower and hold well without running down. Taste the gravy and adjust the seasonings before turning off the heat.
Proceed to bake/roast the cauliflower:
- Pre-heat the oven at 400 deg F or 200 deg C.
- Take baking tray or oven proof dish and place the blanched whole cauliflower upside down. Pour a spoonful of gravy and spread it well to coat the cauliflower well. Gently flip it over and pour the gravy to coat the entire cauliflower. Do not worry if some sauce drips and falls on the side.
- I needed about half of prepared makhani gravy to coat the entire head of cauliflower. Keep aside the remaining makhani gravy aside to serve on side later.
- Bake the cauliflower for 25-45 mins (depending on the size of a cauliflower) till the cauliflower is nicely roasted and is dry to touch. Make sure to turn the dish around half way through baking to make sure that cauliflower is cooked well.
- To roast the cauliflower on stovetop, place the cauliflower upside down in a heavy bottomed pan and close it with a lid. Dum cook this cauliflower on medium to low flame without disturbing for about 8-10 minutes until its roasted and brown spots appear on the surface. Carefully flip the cauliflower and close the lid and cook again undisturbed for 8-10 minutes until the whole cauliflower is cooked through. The cauliflower will get roasted and turn little crisp with brown spots on. Please note that the cooking time will vary depending on the size of cauliflower used.
- While the cauliflower is getting roasted, add about ½ cup of water (or more to get desired consistency) to the remaining gravy and bring it to gentle boil.
- Transfer this gravy into a serving dish before placing the roasted cauliflower. Garnish it with finely chopped coriander leaves and onion rings. You can also sprinkle some flakes of almonds if desired.
- Serve this delicious Gobi Musallam with any roti, naan, paratha or with flavoured basmati rice. The sliced cauliflower of this Vegan Gobi Musallam also makes a wonderful and satisfying filling for pitta bread or warps with some sliced onions, tomatoes and salad leaves. Enjoy!
- Whenever I make rich makhani/buttery gravy, I prefer to use whole spices instead of ready to use grounded spice powders.
- I have used coconut milk to give creamy base to the gravy along with cashew nuts. You can replace the coconut milk with fresh cream if you are not too fond of the taste of coconut.
- If you are allergic to nuts, simply skip the cashew nuts or replace it with 1 tbsp of melon seeds. Soak the melon seeds in hot water for 10-15 minutes and grind them with other ingredients as mentioned in the recipe.
- Please note that the cooking time will vary depending on the size of cauliflower used. I have used a small cauliflower, roughly a size of my small palm.
- You can serve this delicious Vegan Gobi Musallam with any roti, naan, paratha or with flavoured basmati rice. The sliced cauliflower of this Gobi Musallam also makes a wonderful and satisfying filling for pitta bread or warps with some sliced onions, tomatoes and salad leaves.