It’s the simple pleasures in life I’ve always appreciated the most; chapattis with mango pickle, paratha dipped in raita and from time to time, maybe peanut butter and banana sandwiches (let’s keep that one between us).
From sitting on a Mombasa beach nibbling on maize, smothered with lemon and red chilli powder, to scoffing cassava fries doused in citrus hot sauce in university halls, these flavours are an integral part of my food memories.
I think it reason this combination works so well is because the chilli heat is mellowed out with the sharp acidity of fragrant lemon. Indeed, it’s not only Indian and East African dishes which take full advantage of this mouth-watering duo – just think about your favourite Mexican salsas and Thai salads made with the native lime.
I never remove seeds or membrane from fresh chillies – I don’t see the point. However, if you prefer to remove them for a mild flavour then remember to adjust your use of lemon accordingly. A general rule of thumb is that the hotter the chilli, the more the lemon will be able to stand up to it. If your chillies are milder, add less lemon to ensure its flavour doesn’t become overpowering. If, by chance it does, a pinch of sugar should help.
For a speedy side or snack, this sautéed cauliflower tossed with fresh green chillies, mustard seeds, turmeric and lemon juice is the perfect dish. Serve it alone, in a lunchtime wrap with falafel and yogurt, or as part of a larger meal with your favourite curries and Indian breads.
Tip: in most dishes, a pinch of sugar and salt balance the chilli and lemon combination perfectly.
Chilli and Lemon Cauliflower
500g cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets and boiled until al dente
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp asafoetida
½ tsp turmeric
3 green chillies, sliced finely (or to taste)
Juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt or to taste
1. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and add the mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds have popped, add the asafoetida, turmeric, chillies, sugar and salt.
2. Quickly add in the parboiled cauliflower and sauté on a high heat for 4-5 minutes or until tender. Keep them moving to avoid the spices from burning.
3. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with chopped coriander.