Whole Roasted Tandoori Cauliflower with Mint Chutney

I grew up in what you might call a “flavour-free” household. Neither of my parents were the keenest of cooks, and this was reflected in what and how I ate as a girl.

Needless to say, spices scared me. Before I learned how to cook I was afraid of eating anything out-of-the-ordinary because my sensitive taste buds couldn’t handle anything beyond the pungency of a hot dog bun. It wasn’t until I met my best friend’s mother, Annie, that I discovered the world of flavour I had been missing out on. Funnily enough, my home nowadays smells like an ethnic food bazaar, and I am totally enamored with the power of spice.

When I first began teaching Ayurvedic Indian cooking classes, I felt it was time to up my game and seek out a good source for spices. Coincidentally, this was right around the same time that a friend and fellow chef, Julian Amery, was opening his very own spice shop, called ASA, in the central market of Copenhagen. I had no idea what to expect from Julian, and whether or not buying spices from him would be any different from the ones at the local grocery store, so I was pleasantly surprised when I first cooked with his wares, that the difference was clear. Fresh spices are a whole other ball game.

But why go to the trouble of buying spices from a place you trust rather just pick up some at the supermarket? For one, spices that you buy at a generic grocery store could have been sitting on the shelf for months, or even years. Let’s remember that spices are foods, so they do go bad. Over time spices lose not only flavour, but also their nutritional potency. Secondly, if quality and the environment matter to you, then I would also recommend buying organic, fresh, whole spices from a reputable source. They may be slightly more expensive, but you’ll actually use less. And one other thing that I hadn’t really considered before buying spices from ASA, was the politics behind the spice trade. Julian works directly with producer groups and co-operatives who have both a stated commitment to the social welfare of their farmers (and their families), and to their training, education and welfare.

Tandoori is a traditional spice blend from India and it has many different variations according to region and household. It is typically quite hot on the spice scale, as it can include paprika, cayenne, chili, and ginger. The word tandoori actually means “pertaining to the tandoor”, which is a special, high-heat oven typically made of clay in which many different foods are cooked. You’ve probably heard of it before in relation to tandoori chicken, which is the same marinade that is used in the following recipe for tandoori cauliflower.

For the Tandoori Cauliflower recipe I wanted to create my very own Tandoori spice blend, so I of course went to ASA. Making your own custom mixes, with a little help from the expert himself, is a total blast. I took my proposed spice blend list to Julian and he helped me tweak it a bit. The following mix is what I settled on, and for those of you in Copenhagen, Sarah B’s Tandoori spice blend is available for a limited time in the shop! If you would like to recreate this blend at home, I’ve included the recipe below. For accuracy, it is preferable to use the weight measures.

Sarah B's Tandoori Spice Blend

4 grams / 2 tsp. chili (or cayenne )
5 grams / 1 Tbsp. cardamom ( ground or seeds )
20 grams / 4 Tbsp. cumin seeds
11 grams / 2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
½ whole nutmeg, grated
5 grams / 2 tsp. whole cloves
5 grams / 2-3 sticks cinnamon
15 grams / 2 Tbsp. ground turmeric
15 grams / 2 Tbsp. paprika

Buy Sarah B's Tandoori spice blend here »

1. Place all ingredients except for turmeric and paprika in a spice mill, mortar and pestle or coffee grinder.
2. Grind until powdered.
3. Add turmeric and paprika.
4. Store in a glass jar away from light and heat. Will keep for up to six months.

I first ate a whole tandoori cauliflower many years ago at an Indian restaurant back in Toronto. I clearly remember the server setting the giant platter down on our table, a big, auburn vegetable head in the center surrounded by pickled onions, herbs and chutneys. There was almost something majestic about how it was presented, and it made us all feel like royalty.

If you struggle to find something really “special” to serve to your vegetarian dinner guests, I would definitely suggest this show-stopping dish. Even for those that do eat meat, there is something so impressive about tandoori cauliflower that they will want to dig in too.

One of the secrets of the tandoori cauliflower is the marinade, which is based on yogurt. The yogurt helps bind the spices together, surrounds and coats the food, and the acidity naturally tenderizes whatever you are marinating. Yogurt is typically used in marinades for meat, but it works just as effectively with vegetables.

The mint chutney that accompanies the cauliflower is meant to be a refreshing compliment to the intense, spicy flavours of the tandoori blend. It is bright and crisp, and delicious with many things besides this particular dish. I enjoyed some of the mint chutney on top of steamed rice and quinoa, and even tossed it around with some chickpeas. Delicious! It’s a breeze to make and can be prepared a day ahead to save time.

Whole Roasted Tandoori Cauliflower with Mint Chutney

Serves 4-6

1 large head cauliflower, trimmed, washed well, leaves removed

(Tandoori Marinade)
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 Tbsp. tandoori spice blend
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. sea salt
½ cup / 120 ml thick yogurt

1. In a mortar and pestle (or food processor) smash garlic and ginger into a paste. Add the tandoori spice, lemon and salt and mix until uniform. Fold in the yogurt.
2. Place the whole cauliflower in a large bowl and spread the marinade all over, making sure to coat the bottom as well. Place in the fridge to marinate for minimum 1 hour, maximum 12.
3. Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C. On a lined baking sheet, place cauliflower and roast until tender (45-60 minutes depending on the size of the cauliflower). Garnish with cilantro leaves, lots of lemon juice and a generous drizzle of high-quality olive oil. Serve immediately with mint chutney. Enjoy.

Mint Chutney

2 cups loosely packed mint leaves
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1 shallot, minced
½ red chili, minced (optional)
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup yogurt (vegans use plant-based yogurt or try coconut cream)
1 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
a couple pinches sea salt
1 tsp. raw honey

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a chunky pesto-type of sauce results. Season to taste. Enjoy with all tandoori dishes, on top of rice or legumes, or as a spread on crackers or bread. Store leftovers in the fridge. Keeps for 5 days.

I hope this article inspires the spice lover in you to run to the nearest ethnic food shop or market to play and explore. I cannot tell you how much fun it is just spending just five minutes browsing for spices, and then taking them home to experiment with. If this seems daunting, start with just one or two spices, see how you like them and build your pantry from there. Whatever you do, don’t let your household be a flavour-free one!

About the author

Sarah B is a holistic nutritionist, vegetarian chef and the creative force behind MY NEW ROOTS, the award-winning blog that has become an online destination for foodies everywhere, not only for its one-of-a-kind recipes, but also for its amazing nutritional information and mouth-watering photography. Sarah is currently on special assignment at Noma's test kitchen, the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Follow Sarah’s journey here:

« Back