When my parents first moved to Indianapolis, they—like the many people who also immigrated here from India—didn't have much of a community. As time passed, we built our own little Indian community, one that is as close-knit as ever today. On one occasion, we went to a family friend's house where a lady named Nandini (my mother's friend) made what she called a "Cabbage Bake." My mother had never seen nor heard of such a dish, and Nandini Aunty (as I call her) told her that it was something her housekeeper used to make for her family back in New Delhi.
My mother immediately asked her for the recipe, which she was kind enough to write on an index card (that we still have today). Ever since, Nandini Aunty rarely makes the dish, while my mother began to make it during Dussehra, a ten-day festival where we invite many women and children to our house to celebrate. We often put out a large spread of food and it always includes this dish. It's a dish from nowhere: Though it has South Indian flashes and contains many common North Indian spices, I've never come across anything quite like it.
While my mother will sometimes make it when we have extended family visiting or for a special occasion, the dish is still reserved for that ten-day festival and we make batches upon batches, as people flock to the dish like horses to water. It runs out almost instantly.
For more stories, memories, and extended histories behind your most-loved, treasured family recipes from the column, check out our new podcast My Family Recipe. —Lavanya Narayanan
Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, mix together cabbage, gram flour, and oil and let sit 5 minutes. Add buttermilk and all of the spices (save for the fresh cilantro), and mix well. If mixture is too thick, add water as needed. Batter should have the pourable consistency of cornbread batter.
Bake 45 minutes, or until cabbage and flour are cooked through. Let rest, cut into squares, and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro. No condiments required—though you can serve this with cilantro chutney if you'd like.