Mustard seed, when popped in hot oil, release a sweet and nutty flavor akin to popcorn. But when ground and turned into a paste with hot water, the same seeds breathe pungent fire. Include the two techniques in the same recipe, and watch a brilliant balance of tastes, textures and colors come alive in every mouthful. Serve a bowl of this stew with crusty-warm slices of baguette or even steamed basmati rice for a quick weekday fare.
Pulse the onion, ginger, and chilis in a food processor until finely chopped.
Grind* 2 tablespoons of the mustard seeds to the texture of finely ground black pepper. Tap this out into a small bowl and stir in the turmeric. Whisk in the hot water to unleash the pungency of the mustard and create a smooth paste.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Once the oil appears to shimmer, sprinkle in the remaining 2 teaspoons mustard seeds. Once the seeds start to pop, cover the pan. As soon as all the seeds finish popping (not unlike popcorn), about 1 minute, sprinkle in the fennel and cumin, which will instantly sizzle and turn reddish brown. Stir in the onion-ginger mixture and stir-fry the medley until the onion and ginger are light brown around the edges and the chilis smell pungent, 4 to 5 minutes.
Pour in the mustard paste and continue to stir-fry as the mustard releases a strong pungent aroma (adequate ventilation is a good idea) that eventually smells almost sweet, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas, water, cauliflower and sugar. Scrape the bottom of the pan to release any collected bits of onion and spices and bringing all those flavors into the sauce. Once the stew starts to boil, lower the heat to medium, cover and continue to simmer briskly. Stir occasionally until the cauliflower is fork-tender, 15 to 17 minutes.
Stir in handfuls of the spinach, mixing it in to wilt the leaves. Repeat until all the spinach is used up, about 3 minutes. Stir in the salt and lemon juice and serve.
*For instructions on grinding mustard seed, see Mustard Tips & Tricks.
Any vegetable, ounce for ounce, is fair game if either cauliflower or spinach is not to your liking.
Serving Size 1 cup
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.