Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gobi Manchurian

Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
Mark Twain
You can say a lot of things about cauliflower (no, really, you can!): it's nutritious, versatile, and loaded with fiber. One word that might not spring immediately to mind, however, is "exciting." This may have something to do with its complexion, which is admittedly rather pale and wan in comparison to its more popular cruciferous cousin, broccoli. It may also have something to do with memories of childhood dinners in which it featured as a bland, overcooked, mushy white mass, adorned with nothing more than a little butter and salt. I confess that the only presentation for which my youthful self could summon any enthusiasm was in a cheesy casserole, where the vegetable was smothered in a thick, creamy sauce, topped with breadcrumbs, and baked. (And even then, I preferred it when prepared with - you guessed it - broccoli.)
It was only when I was introduced to the wonderful world of Indian food that the scales fell from my eyes and cauliflower's many possibilities became apparent. Roasted, as part of a curry, fried as pakoras, or encased in a dosa, this former wallflower becomes something else entirely, and today's recipe is a case in point. If we agree with the esteemed Mr. Clemens that cauliflower has been to college, then this is what it looks like after it's been to graduate school (and rocked it). 

Technically speaking, Gobi Manchurian is not so much an Indian dish as an example of "Indian Chinese" cooking: the adaptation and appropriation of Chinese seasonings and techniques to suite Indian tastes (and available ingredients). The boffins at Wikipedia tell us that this hybrid cuisine was  developed by Chinese immigrants living in Calcutta, and that this particular dish is "entirely a creation of Chinese restaurants in India, and bears little resemblance to traditional Chinese cuisine. It is said to have been invented in 1975 by Nelson Wang; Wang described his invention process as starting from the basic ingredients of an Indian dish, namely chopped garlic, ginger, and green chilis, but next, instead of adding garam masala, he put in soy sauce instead." 

All I can say for certain is that this the best use I have ever found for cauliflower - including Mom's cheesy casserole - and I think you will agree. My one and only complaint was that it disappeared all too quickly: a fault which can be easily remedied by doubling the recipe. So what are you waiting for? Eat your educated cabbage; it's good for you!

Gobi Manchurian
The Cauliflower
~ 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
~ 1/3 cup chickpea flour
~ 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1/3 cup corn starch
~ 1 tsp. garlic powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: chili powder, cayenne pepper, freshly ground black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1/2 cup water
~ Canola oil for frying

~ In a bowl, sift together the flours and all the dry seasonings.
~ Add the soy sauce and water and mix to make a batter.
~ Cook the cauliflower pieces in salted, boiling water for about 3-4 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, then pat dry and set aside.
~ In a deep frying pan or wok, heat about 1 inch of oil  over medium-high heat.
~ Working in batches, dip the cauliflower pieces in the batter, then fry until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. As each batch is cooked, transfer it to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
~ Now that all the cauliflower has been fried, you can make...

The Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped fine
~ 1 heaping tbsp. each:  minced garlic, freshly grated ginger
~ 3 tbsp. soy sauce
~ 2 tsp. hot sauce (or to taste)
~ 1/2 cup tomato paste
~ 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 1 cup water

~ Drain all but about a tablespoon of the oil from the wok, and sauté the onion over medium-high until soft, about 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the garlic and ginger, and cook another minute or two.
~ Stir in the soy sauce, hot sauce, tomato paste and sesame oil; combine thoroughly and cook for about a minute.
~ Gradually add the water, stirring constantly, and continue to simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning (you might want a little more hot sauce).
~ Return the fried cauliflower to the wok and stir into the sauce; cook another minute or two to make sure it's all coated and everything is hot. Serve immediately, as a first course, a side dish, or all on its beautiful own on a bed of fluffy rice; if you like, you can sprinkle on a little extra grated ginger and/or chopped cilantro for garnish.


  1. INCREDIBLY delicious, and perfectly crispy under a light coating of sauce. Sorry to use a tired cliché, but OM NOM NOM!!!

  2. I love cauliflower, and this sounds great!