Throughout culinary history, both amazing and terrible things have happened when cultures collide. In America, for example, we have a merging of European and Mexican culinary cultures that have brought us chili, fajitas and this sort of thing.
Fortunately, the fusion of Indian and Chinese flavors by Chinese immigrants living in Kolkata has inspired some fabulous creations. One of my favorites is a naturally vegan dish called Gobi Manchurian which consists of fried cauliflower fritters in a sweet, spicy chili sauce. It's typically served as an appetizer, but I love to have it as a main dish with some basmati rice.
This recipe calls for a head of cauliflower. I typically use a medium-large head, but you can get different consistencies based on the size of the cauliflower you pick out. A small head will give you a wet, saucy dish (with maybe some leftover batter) while you'll end up with something a bit more dry if you use a large cauliflower.
The cauliflower is coated in a simple batter made of flour, cornstarch, salt and water. Fry it until it's golden brown.
It can take a while for the cauliflower to brown up, but be patient and don't remove it from the oil too soon. The batter needs to be extra crispy or else it will turn soft once it's smothered in sauce. Keep in mind that the cauliflower will also crisp up better in small batches since overcrowding the pot will reduce the temperature of the oil.
Once you've fried all the cauliflower, keep it warm in the oven while you prepare the sauce.
The sauce has an aromatic base of onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger and chilies that are all caramelized together. It's then sweetened with ketchup and tomato paste, flavored with soy sauce, chili paste and vinegar, and thickened with cornstarch.
Mix the cauliflower in and finish it with some scallions. This dish is best when eaten right away, so dig in!
Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as an appetizer
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
oil for frying
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1” ginger, minced
2 small green chilis, thinly sliced (see tip)
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili paste, or less for a milder dish
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 scallions, thinly sliced
finely chopped cilantro for garnish
- Prepare the crispy cauliflower. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Whisk together flour, cornstarch and salt. Pour in water while continuing to whisk until batter is smooth.
- Heat the frying oil in a large pot over medium heat. Test the heat by dropping a tiny bit of batter in the oil. If it quickly rises and sizzles, the oil is ready.
- Dip each cauliflower floret into the batter and gently drop into the oil. Fry the cauliflower in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pot, until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon and allow to drain on a wire rack over a pan.
- Keep cauliflower warm in the oven while you prepare the sauce.
- Whisk cornstarch with 1/2 cup water in a small bowl until dissolved and set aside.
- Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook 7 minutes or until they begin to brown. Stir in bell pepper, garlic, ginger and chilis. Cook another 5-7 minutes or until onions are golden brown and caramelized.
- Mix in ketchup, tomato paste, chili paste, soy sauce and vinegar. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cornstarch mixture and cook for another 1-2 minutes or until sauce thickens again. Remove from heat.
- Fold the cauliflower into the sauce, then stir in the scallions. Garnish with finely chopped cilantro and serve immediately.