Steaming vegetables has the advantage of gentle cooking, ensuring produce cooks evenly from surface to center. But what we gain in uniformity, we often sacrifice in flavor. That’s because steam cooking can’t caramelize the natural sugars in the vegetables, a process that delivers richer, deeper flavors.
But we’ve learned that deeply flavored steamed vegetables are possible. It’s all a matter of how—and more importantly, when—you season and sauce them. It’s a lesson we learned from Afghanistan’s shor nakhod, a hearty street food snack doused with vibrant sauces.
In Afghanistan, city streets and public parks are lined with food stalls offering steaming bowls of creamy, tender cooked chickpeas and potatoes. Sometimes likened to India’s tangy chana chaat, shor nakhod is characterized by its bright flavors, which come courtesy of its dressings.
Just before shor nakhod is served—and while it is still piping hot—a tangy, garlicky cilantro sauce is ladled over the chickpeas and potatoes (often accompanied by a dab of fiery red pepper sauce for extra spice), leaving them swimming in a sea of fresh, vibrant flavor.
Because they are hot, the chickpeas and potatoes more readily absorb this dressing as they cool, ensuring maximum flavor. Unsurprisingly, the dish is a popular, warming pick-me-up, and the street vendors work assembly-line fast to keep up with the demand.
Intrigued by shor nakhod’s signature green sauce—which requires little more than herbs, white vinegar, alliums and olive oil to deliver big, punchy flavor—we wanted to see if it would work as well with other vegetables. Indeed, it did.
In our shor nakhod-inspired dish, we swap the potatoes for cauliflower.We find that the toothsome texture of the cauliflower pairs beautifully with the tender chickpeas, and it just as readily soaks up the tangy dressing.
We also took one major shortcut: Traditional versions of shor nakhod rely on dried chickpeas that have been soaked and long-simmered—an hours-long process. But for greater ease and speed, we opt for canned chickpeas, which we cook gently along with the cauliflower.
By using a scant amount of liquid in a Dutch oven to steam our main ingredients, the cauliflower stays tender-crisp, and the chickpeas pleasantly firm. To finish, the sauce is added straight to the pot, to be soaked up by the still-hot vegetables. For a finishing touch, we sprinkle on chopped chilies to further elevate the dish with a pop of fresh flavor and a pleasantly spicy kick.