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Vegan Planet: Spicy Cauliflower (Gobi Manchurian)

Monday, February 28, 2011

 

Spicy Cauliflower (Gobi Manchurian)


Several years ago I had my first encounter with Gobi Manchurian, a fabulously spicy and flavorful Indian cauliflower dish.  It was on the appetizer menu of my then-favorite Indian restaurant where the chef took extra care to provide lots of vegan menu options. On that menu it was listed simply as “Spicy Cauliflower.”  (The restaurant has since closed and I’ve moved away.)
Because the food was so outstanding, I frequently asked the chef to explain how he made certain dishes, the cauliflower among them.  I diligently scribbled his instructions on a cocktail napkin and have been trying to recreate the magic of his recipe ever since.  My attempts have been good, but not quite “it.”  It’s at least as good as most Gobi Manchurian I’ve had in subsequent restaurants, but it still needs a little tweaking to equal the nuances that chef put into his dish.
So, here’s my latest attempt.  In this version, I roast the cauliflower before frying it to give it more flavor than simply steaming it.  I’ve also tweaked the seasonings both in the batter and in the sauce.  It’s as close as I’ve gotten so far and about 95% where I want it to be — crispy on the outside, tender in the center, with lots of flavor and heat.   Even if you’re not a fan of cauliflower, you just may like it prepared this way (as long as you like spicy-heat). 
If you try this recipe, please let me know what you think.  And if anyone has suggestions on how I can achieve that elusive 5% to make this as perfect as my memory of it, I’d love to hear your ideas.

Spicy Cauliflower (Gobi Manchurian)
With 1/2 teaspoon cayenne and 2 teaspoons Sriracha, this is pretty hot stuff. If you want it a little milder, cut back on the amount of cayenne.
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
Salt and black pepper
1/2 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground coriander, divided
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, divided
5 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil, plus more for frying
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup tomato puree
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the cauliflower on an oiled baking sheet, season with salt and pepper to taste, and roast until just tender, turning once, 12 to 15 minutes total. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
In a bowl, combine the chickpea flour, cornstarch, and all-purpose flour. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the coriander, 1/4 teaspoon of the cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce and the water and mix well to make a batter. Add another tablespoon or so of water if the batter is too thick.
In a large skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, dip the cauliflower in the batter, then arrange in the hot skillet. Fry until golden brown, turning once, 4 to 5 minutes total. Transfer the cooked cauliflower to the baking sheet and return to the oven to keep warm.
Heat the 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, 1/4 teaspoon salt, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon coriander, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the 3 tablespoons soy sauce, vinegar, Sriracha, tomato puree, sesame oil, and sugar. Add 3 tablespoons of the cilantro and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened and the flavors have blended, about 5 minutes. Add up to 1/4 cup of water is the sauce is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Return the fried cauliflower to the pan and spoon on the sauce to coat, turning the cauliflower gently to coat with sauce. Serve immediately. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro.

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Comments:
Oh my goodness, cauliflower is my obsession-of-the-moment, and Indian is my favorite type of food...I think you just decided what I'm having for dinner tomorrow night. :)
 
Robin, this is THE way to eat cauliflower. You are a cooking genius! I am posting this to my personal pages and to my Vegetarian nonprofit page (www.facebook.com/vegetarianpage) so others can enjoy it too!
 
Hope you enjoy it, Amber! BTW, instead of tomato puree you can use tomato paste thinned out with water, if you prefer. I usually use tomato paste, but had some puree I needed to use up.

Terri, I agree, this is the absolute best way to eat cauliflower!
 
This is something so new to me. I could pull this one out in the kitchen! Thanks for the idea.
 
Oh, my goodness, I totally understand your predicament. There is a Vietnamese restaurant that we love that has a soup that I've never seen at any other Vietnamese restaurant. I have tried to recreate it at home but to no avail. They are not being as forthcoming as your friendly chef was for you on the recipe, however. :-) I can see how hard you've worked to get the recipe as close as you can. You've inspired me to keep on trying!
 
I made this on my regular "Indian" night with some other recipes I have. My husband flipped over these!!! The texture was fabulous, and the flavors were different than the typical Indian fare we eat. I personally hate cauliflower but this was a great recipe. I have gone from hating cauliflower to liking it. Thanks so much for a fabulous recipe. If only I wasn't a "super taster" and had such an aversion to the aftertaste of cauliflower :-(
 
Looks great!!
 
Wow! This Gobi Manchurian looks absolutely fantastic! I can't wait to try it out. I love cauliflower but it can be destroyed by overcooking. This looks wonderful. Thanks a lot. danny@thecapertree.com
 
Delicious recipe!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
This is amazing! My "last 5%" -- I pureed the raw garlic, onion, and ginger and sauteed the puree before adding the rest of the sauce ingredients. It's common in Indian cooking and blends better into the sauce that way.

I'm also thinking maybe the tiniest bit of citrus or tamarind although it's almost exactly like my favorite restaurant's as is :)
 
I LOVED this recipe! It was a little labor-intensive but I know the second (and third and fourth...lol) times I make it, it will go by more quickly! I used a can of diced tomatoes instead, loved the texture when they cooked down in the sauce. Thank you so much for this great one, Robin! You are my go-to for spicy and ethnic recipes, the red hot chili tofu is by far my favorite tofu recipe.
 
Jared, So glad you liked the recipe. If you want a short-cut version, try the one in this recipe for Manchruian Cauliflower Pizza:
http://veganplanet.blogspot.com/2012/01/manchurian-cauliflower-pizza.html
 
I prepared this meal a couople of days ago for dinner and we absolutely LOVED it!!!
I became vegan relatively recently and this recipe is a great addition to a fulfilling, tasty vegan recipe collection. I am also eating gluten free so I left out the regular flour. The florets came out still crispy and the sauce added a spicy twist to an already fabulous flavor composition. My husband who is not vegan loved the dish as well. I think this will be a regular on our dinner table. One more alteration I made was to replace the Sriracha sauce and cajun peppers with red paprica and chili flakes.
 
Yum! The changes you made sound great.
 
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