Indian food is another cuisine that I did not come to appreciate until my adult years, which always made me feel a bit insecure and like an imposter because I am a self-proclaimed spice warrior. But as with so many cuisines, I’ve learned that I just have not had the exposure to properly made dishes, cooked with heart and soul. Enter: my own kitchen.

Vindaloo is a Goan dish that is definitely one of the spiciest dishes out there. Few people I know would order this at restaurants to consist of their entire meal, from start to finish. A prudent person embarking on it would not do so without tissues nearby to wipe away the onslaught of spice-induced rhinorrhea. I opt to add coconut milk, which is not traditional, because I love the coconut flavour and helps mellow the spices a bit. The dish is also absolutely customizable—you can make it with chickpeas, chicken, lamb, you-name-it. I like keeping it vegetarian because this is one of those few dishes that are so insanely flavourful as is that you don’t need any meat to make it taste better. Leave out the egg to make it vegan.

I make a huge batch of this curry to eat throughout the week and also to freeze. In pandemic times, it seemed fitting to crank out a freezer-friendly recipe. Thaw overnight and eat with fresh rice and boiled egg (do not freeze the eggs in with the curry).

The foremost reason for my initial failure to cook good Indian food at home was that I used already-powdered spices, or—worse yet—pre-mixed “curry” powder. This is not only extremely lazy cooking but is a horrendous missed opportunity for potential flavour. Whole spices are best purchased fresh but even if they’ve been sitting in your pantry for a few months or a year they will still retain much of their flavour as compared to powdered spices.

These spices are first toasted until pungent. Be warned: the fumes from the toasting process will feel almost deadly. Ensure that you have adequate ventilation.

I transfer the toasted spices to my spice grinder to grind into a fine powder. The food processor just doesn’t do it fine enough and, speaking from experience, you do not want to be chewing on large coriander seeds or chunks of unprocessed cinnamon stick. I suppose this job can also be done with a mortar and pestle. Whatever it takes, grind them up!

Other components of the vindaloo paste are tons of garlic, ginger, and concentrated tamarind paste. A splash of vinegar is optional if you prefer a more tangy curry. But I’ve forgotten to add the vinegar before and never felt like it was missing something because a good quality tamarind paste should provide a good amount of tang.

The final texture of the vindaloo paste should be a nice Bristol 6. I am sorry for this analogy (especially if you are not a medical professional and just had to look that up) but I genuinely could not think of a better one. If you are grossed out, maybe quit now because this recipe is not for the weak-stomached anyway.

Chickpea Coconut Vindaloo with Cauliflower & Spinach

Serves 8-10

Vindaloo paste
25 dried red chilis
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
8 whole cloves
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
20 black peppercorns
5 cm cinnamon stick, gently crushed
6 black cardamom pods, gently crushed
60 grams (~5 cm) fresh ginger, sliced
15-20 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons white vinegar (optional)
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
water to thin

Vegetable oil
3 medium onions, diced (about 3 cups)
1 head small cauliflower including tender leaves, chopped into bitesize pieces
2 cups tomato purée
1 can (400 mL) coconut milk
2 cans (1080 mL total) chickpeas, drained and rinsed thoroughly
2 teaspoons turmeric
water to thin
~2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, to taste
~1 tablespoon sugar, to taste
1 bag (284 grams) spinach

Medium-boiled eggs

To serve
basmati rice
fresh cilantro

  1. Heat a cast iron pan on medium. Get all of your spices (first 8 ingredients) for the vindaloo paste ready. Once pan is hot, add the spices to toast, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and death-defyingly pungent. Then transfer the spices to a spice grinder to grind into a fine powder.
  2. Add the spice powder, ginger, garlic, vinegar, tamarind paste to a food processor and blend into a paste, adding a bit water if necessary to bring everything together.
  3. Heat a large glug of oil in a large pot on medium high. Add the onions and fry until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the vindaloo paste to fry, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower, tomato purée, coconut milk, chickpeas, and turmeric and stir everything together. Add about 200 mL water to thin using the coconut milk can, swirling the rest of it in. Season with salt and sugar to taste. Bring to a simmer then turn down to medium-low to continue simmering for about 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is cooked tender-crisp. Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach to wilt.
  4. Serve with rice and fresh cilantro.