Photos by Emily Caruso
Believe it or not, some of my favorite foods on the planet have never graced my own kitchen. Sad but true, especially given the fact that I love to cook and blog about it. Deep-fried foods, in particular, I seem to have categorized as “off-limits.” Somehow or another, “off limits” doesn't apply when I’m eating at a restaurant, though. I guess this is because I think of restaurant nights as special occasions, but that’s silly, because I love to cook! Special occasions have every right to come from my own kitchen, even if I can’t get over the whole frying thing. All of this is especially true when it comes to Indian food, and I love me some Indian food…especially the fried stuff. The fried stuff doesn’t always need to be fried though; I can totally improvise (as demonstrated by Exhibit A).
Cauliflower Manchurian, or gobi Manchurian, as it will often appear on restaurant menus, is actually an Indian-Chinese fusion dish, and it's one of those special-occasion restaurant items that I love to order out but never even considered making at home. This stuff is seriously fried, even sometimes double fried (gasp!). If you’ve ever roasted up some cauliflower though, you probably realize that double deep frying is totally unnecessary. Roasting gives cauliflower amazing texture and flavor; you’ll never miss the greasy fried coating.
But just in case you do miss it, I’ve covered that too, taking a cue from this Firecracker Cauliflower recipe. I created a vegan version by omitting the eggs and using panko breadcrumbs. The result is a bunch of tasty little chunks of cauliflower goodness covered in a crispy (and virtually greaseless!) baked-on shell. Oh, and let’s not forget the Manchurian gravy, which is just a bit sweet, a bit salty, as spicy as you want, and loaded with delicious flavors representing the best of Chinese and Indian food.
For the Baked Cauliflower:
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
- 1 cup unflavored soy or almond milk
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 medium cauliflower crown about 1 ½ pounds, broken into florets
- Grapeseed oil or another neutral flavored vegetable oil
For the Manchurian Gravy:
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil or another neutral flavored vegetable oil
- 4 scallions white and green parts separated and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
- 2 celery stalks finely chopped
- 1 serrano pepper seeded and minced (optional)
- 1 ½ cups vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon agave or maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1-2 teaspoons Asian chili paste or sriracha sauce
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup chilled water
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
Make the Baked Cauliflower:
- Stir flour and ground flax seeds together in medium bowl. Whisk in milk and soy sauce. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, adding a little more milk if it seems too thick to evenly coat cauliflower.
- Preheat oven to 400°F and lightly oil a baking sheet.
- Stir panko breadcrumbs, black pepper and cayenne together in medium bowl.
- Dip each cauliflower floret into flour-milk batter and roll to coat, shaking off any excess batter. Transfer to panko breadcrumb mixture and gently roll to coat. Place on prepared baking sheet. Lightly spray with oil using a mister or cooking spray. Bake until fork-tender and lightly browned, 20-25 minutes.
Make the Manchurian Gravy:
- While cauliflower bakes, place oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add white parts of scallions, garlic, ginger, celery and serrano pepper. Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth, soy sauce, tomato paste, agave or maple syrup, rice vinegar, chili paste and black pepper. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir chilled water and cornstarch together in small bowl. Add to gravy mixture and stir to incorporate. Allow to simmer for about another minute, just until mixture thickens. Stir in scallion greens and cilantro.
- Divide cauliflower onto plates or bowls and top with gravy. Serve immediately.