What to CookStew

The Curried, Coconut-y Cauliflower Stew That Started as a Salad

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In early September, I discovered a chickpea-and-cauliflower salad at my local co-op. Its mix of tastes and textures—salty black olives, sweet golden raisins, toasty pine nuts, and a sharp, intensely curried dressing—had me analyzing every bite, inspecting the ingredient list, and searching my cookbooks for reproduction guidance.

In Ad Hoc at Home, I came across a promising recipe composed, in true Thomas Keller fashion, of many sub-recipes: a curry vinaigrette, wine-steeped golden raisins, pickled red onions, fried parsley leaves. It served as a guide, producing a respectable likeness that made its debut at a Labor Day gathering and many times after that. The salad held up well in the fridge all week, making for quick lunches and the occasional dinner.

Curried Chickpeas with Cauliflower and Coconut Milk
Curried Chickpeas with Cauliflower and Coconut Milk

But overnight, it seems, I lost interest in this sort of cold, hardy salad, favoring anything soupy and brothy. And so, I turned the salad hot. I kept many of the flavors the same, using Julia Turshen’s curried lentils as a guide (which I made recently, see here). I loved the lentils's simple method: sauté aromatics with spices to allow them to “bloom”—or as Julia says, “wake up”—then simmer everything in a mix of water and coconut milk.

When hot, the salad is more of a stew, the chickpeas soften, and the small bits of cauliflower dissolve, thickening everything. Without the pickled onions or vinaigrette of Keller’s recipe, there’s no bite or acidity. But it’s just as addictive, tasting slightly sweeter. And with a side of naan, it’s utterly comforting.

Can you believe this was once salad?
Can you believe this was once salad? Photo by Alexandra Stafford

If you cook the chickpeas ahead of time or used canned, this dish becomes weeknight friendly, coming together in about 30 minutes. As you sauté the onion with the curry powder, you parboil the cauliflower, then add it to the pot along with the chickpeas, raisins, coconut milk, and water. Twenty minutes later, when the liquids reduce, the cauliflower breaks down, the raisins plump, and the chickpeas swell, it’s done. The stew needs nothing more than a showering of cilantro: a welcomed, bright finish.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Once a salad, this stew is already no stranger to change—and, yet, the spices and ingredients can be varied endlessly. Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of cauliflower, use cubes of butternut squash, potato, carrots, or parsnips. The key is to parboil the vegetables first to ensure they cook completely during the final 20 minutes of simmering.

  • Or omit the cauliflower altogether and, after the chickpeas simmer for 10 minutes, add lots of chopped chard or spinach, simmering until the greens wilt and become tender.

  • Substitute quick-cooking grains or pulses or cooked legumes for the chickpeas.

  • Try different aromatics, like ginger, garlic, or shallots in addition to (or even in place of) the onion.

  • For a less rich taste, water or vegetable stock can take the place of the coconut milk.

The cauliflower's (kind of) optional.
The cauliflower's (kind of) optional. Photo by Alexandra Stafford
  • For a Moroccan variation, use ras-el-hanout in place of the curry powder and add a teaspoon of minced preserved lemon and a handful of pitted, green olives.

  • For a Thai variation, omit the curry powder, raisins, and pine nuts and add minced ginger in with the onion and a tablespoon or two of Thai red curry paste with the coconut milk.

Curried Chickpeas with Cauliflower and Coconut Milk

Curried Chickpeas with Cauliflower and Coconut Milk

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Serves 4 to 6

soaking and cooking the chickpeas

  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound dried chickpeas, see notes above if using canned
  • few sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 onion

making the curried chickpeas and cauliflower

  • 1 head cauliflower, 2 to 2.5 lbs.
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced to yield about 1 cup
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 13.5 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup raisins, golden are nice
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, optional
  • 1 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • naan, for serving, optional
Go to Recipe

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

What favorite salad would you turn into stew, if you could? Tell us in the comments below!

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Soup, Bean, Cauliflower, Chickpea, Curry, Vegetable, Fall, Vegetarian