About a month ago, a local spice maker contacted me about trying their spice mixes. I said I’d be happy to give them a try, and send some feedback because first, I really like spicy stuff and secondly, I love supporting small businesses. The owner of Nataraja Spices, Venkat and his mother are a two person team that make both their Sambar powder and their Chili Rub, packed with rich, South Indian flavors. Venkat’s website has all kinds of recipe suggestions as well, from salad dressings to grilled cheese sandwiches with a kick.
The spices arrived in no time, but between this and that, the little jar has been sitting on my counter just waiting for me to give it a go. Today finally marked the day, and I made a simple baked cauliflower and fennel bulb seasonsed with the Sambar powder, a bit of oil and some salt.
Now, I like to think of my self as a bit of a culinary tough girl. I like things spicy, and I eat spicy food from just about any cuisine I can find it. I order my Thai food 4 star, happily scarf down chili-pepper ladened Szchewan chicken, and douse my enchiladas in a hefty dose of both red and green chile. So, perhaps my generous sprinkling of Sambar powder was a bit over ambitious. Nonetheless, while it gave my cauliflower quite the kick in the pants, it also added a great, well rounded flavor that was more than merely hot. The powder is a great balance of coriander, fenugreek and curry leaves all that worked particularly well with both the cauliflower and the fennel bulb, giving a gorgeous ruddy yellow color as well.
Sambar-spiced Cauliflower and Fennel Bulb
Makes 2-4 servings as a side
1 bulb fennel
1 head of cauliflower
Vegetable oil or Ghee
Preheat oven to 425F.
Fill a medium sized bowl with ice water, and add the juice from the lemon. Core and slice the fennel into 1/4 inch thick pieces, and place in the bowl of water. This will crisp up the fennel and keep it from browning in the air.
Remove the flowerettes from their stems, and slice in to 1/4 inch pieces. Place in a bowl, and drizzle with the oil. Toss.
Drain the fennel, pat dry, and toss into the cauliflower. Sprinkle just a bit (start with about a 1/8 t, and go from there depending on your spicy appreciation) of the Sambar powder, and mix to lightly coat each piece.
Spread into a thin layer on a baking sheet or casserole dish. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.
Bake for 15 minutes. Then give the whole thing a big stir to flip over the cauliflower and fennel pieces. Remove from heat, and serve immediately.