the taste space

Cauliflower, Spinach and Chickpea Balti

Posted in Favourites, Mains (Vegetarian) by Janet M on August 30, 2011


Curries are actually really varied. Considering curry simply means something has been simmered in a sauce with spices/herbs, it can encompass many different kinds of meals. They are a heterogeneous bunch and hail from India and Nepal to Thailand to Great Britain, Japan and even Trinidad and Guyana. They can be quite different and for those who shun at the sight of curry on a menu or in a recipe (yes, count me in on that), I wanted to highlight beginner-friendly curries this week. Curries for those who do not like curries. Like me. If these are my favourite curries so far, then you can be assured that you will love them, too.

While I am still averse to eating curries in restaurants, I had a favourite Indian restaurant in my pre-vegan days. It was at Amaya that I fell in love with flavourful Indian cooking. Instead of over the top earthy and spicy dishes, I could taste layers of flavour. I still want to know how to recreate their butter chicken at home (without resorting to chicken, cream and butter, obviously!), but have yet to crack that recipe.

I know there are others like me that quiver when they hear the word curry, not knowing what it will taste like. Will it be hot or spicy? Will it be earthy? Sweet? Creamy? Each component makes a difference and can make me wax from loving a dish to wane and hating it altogether. Remember the 11-Spiced Lentil Salad? You essentially make your own curry powder with all the spices, but had Sarah called it Curried Lentil Salad, I never would have made it. But I am so glad I did, since the flavours were all right up my alley.

For those like me, or for anyone who wants to make a delicious flavourful curry, try this one: vegetable balti. Named after a cooking vessel or the Baltistan area in Pakistan, its origins are debated, hailing from Birmingham in Britain but possibly originally created in Pakistan.  Baltis can incorporate lamb or chicken, but in this case, I feature it with tomatoes, cauliflower and spinach.

Regardless, it is the sauce that counts. I hesitate to call it a curry sauce, because honestly it is a deliciously spiced tomato slurry that is the star of the show. With my adapted recipe below, it is more sweet and savoury than spicy but there is a backdrop of spice. Dial up the heat to your taste, but I loved it exactly as written. The dash of garam masala added after cooking was a neat twist.  The savoury tomato curry sauce smothers chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, crisp cauliflower and loads of spinach. You could use any vegetables you prefer, including green beans, eggplant, zucchini or sweet potatoes. Balti curries tend to be a bit more soupy because they are supposed to be eaten with bread like naan, instead of rice.

Furthermore, I love how healthy the recipe is with limited oil and loaded to the brim with vegetables. So many tomatoes and onions, it is nuts! I also didn’t think all my spinach would fit into my skillet, but then the magic of wilting occurred. ;)

This recipe actually took a while to make. The sauce alone needed 30 minutes to simmer, but if you make it on a separate day, then yes, this dish could come together in under half an hour. You could even cheat and buy premade balti sauce, in a pinch.  In fact, double or triple the curry sauce so that you can freeze it and whip up this curry quickly for a weekday meal. I wish I would have done that the first time as I only had a smidgen leftover. :)


This is my submission to My Kitchen, My World for Britain, to E.A.T. World for Britain, to this month’s Simple and in Season, and to Ricki’s Wellness Weekends.

Cauliflower, Spinach and Chickpea Balti

1 tbsp coconut oil, or vegetable oil
2 cm piece ginger, grated
1 large garlic clove, crushed
3 onions, chopped
1 cup water
4 tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp chopped fresh coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 bay leaves
4 cardamoms, broken slightly open
1.5 tsp salt

1 tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
2cm/¾in piece ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tomatoes, chopped
200g cauliflower florets (a quarter of a large head)
1.5 cups cooked chickpeas (or 15 oz canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained)
2 tsp salt
2 bunches of spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped (400g, prepped)
1 tsp Aleppo chili flakes
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 tsp garam masala

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, then add the ginger and garlic and stir.

2. Add the onions and stir-fry for five minutes until they are translucent.

3. Add the water and bring to the boil.

4. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, cover and simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the bay leaves and cardamom pods, and blend until smooth (I used my immersion blender) and reserve the sauce.

6. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large wok (I used the same saucepan as above since it was relatively clean) then add the onions and fry gently until they begin to turn brown.

7. Add the ginger and garlic, stir well, and cook for one minute.

8. Add the tomatoes, cauliflower, chickpeas, salt and enough balti sauce to coat all the vegetables (4-6 ladles of sauce, which was nearly all my sauce but I had some left over).

9. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer until the cauliflower is just tender, about 10-15 minutes.

10. Add the chili flakes and spinach and stir-fry for three more minutes until the spinach has wilted down.

11. Stir in the coriander.

12. Just before serving, sprinkle the garam masala on top.  Serve with naan bread or chapatis. Or rice.

Serves 6-8.

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14 Responses

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  1. Tasha said, on August 30, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    For the longest time, I couldn’t do curry either. I guess my tastes have changed recently because not only can I tolerate them, I find myself really liking them. I love how this loaded with veggies (and chickpeas, which we crazy for) and the sauce sounds wonderful.

    • Saveur said, on August 30, 2011 at 10:09 AM

      Hey Tasha, I know my palate has changed as well, but I also know that there are tons of curries I don’t like either. I have just become more open to trying curries and finding ones that appeal to me. I went to my Indian friend for lunch and could only eat the bharta – everything else was too spicy or earthy! I am starting to think I am not really cooking Indian dishes at all. ;)

  2. Priya Yallapantula said, on August 30, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    wow, that looks super delicious, I am going to bookmark it, love the balti flavor :)

  3. Joanne said, on August 30, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    My mom is always saying she doesn’t like curry which I think is insane because there are so many different kinds and they all taste so different! I’m glad you’ve realized that also because this looks like a curry-full masterpiece!

  4. Priya said, on August 31, 2011 at 4:03 AM

    Wat a wonderful bowl,looks super flavourful and filling..

  5. Julia said, on September 1, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    Yum! I have coconut oil, but I’ve only ever used it as a shortening substitute in baking. Does using it here in place of veg oil change the flavor or the texture?

    • Saveur said, on September 2, 2011 at 5:30 AM

      Hey Julia, If you use the extra virgin coconut oil, you get a hint of coconut flavour. It is nice for frying with high heat because it doesn’t smoke. I typically use normal canola oil for frying but for a while we couldn’t find the oil after we moved, so coconut oil it was! ;)

  6. [...] Cauliflower, Spinach and Chickpea Balti [...]

  7. Ashley said, on September 16, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    I love all the cauliflower and spinach in this! I’m happy to hear you’re finding more curries you enjoy. :) Personally I prefer the super flavoured ones, though there was a time when I hated all Indian food.

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