Yield: 4 servings
This is the Indian interpretation of Chinese food – a sweet and sour sauce blankets fried cauliflower seasoned with more traditional Indian spices. Rachana learned this special occasion dish from her mother, though she added her own twist with the sweet tomato chili sauce and garlic. It’s often served with rice and roti, though it makes a great snack as is (it can sit 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator).
Cauliflower and Batter
1 small cauliflower
1 cup besan (chickpea) flour
1 cup cornstarch
¼ cup plus 1 ½ teaspoons corn flour (see Cook’s Notes)
3 heaping tbsp ground cumin
3 heaping tbsp ground garam masala
¼ tsp hing (see Cook’s Notes)
4 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp red chile powder
1 tbsp plus ½ tsp fine salt
1 ½ tsp ground ginger
1 ¼ tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/3 cup hot and sweet tomato chili sauce (see Cook’s Notes)
About 6 cups canola oil, for deep frying
¾ cup water
1 tbsp canola oil
¼ cup hot and sweet tomato chili sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp roasted cumin powder (see Cook’s Notes)
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 ¼ cups water
¼ cup sugar
Chopped fresh cilantro and sliced scallions, for garnish
For the cauliflower and batter
1) Break the cauliflower into large florets and slice them into ¼-inch-thick planks. Put into a large high-sided skillet, cover with water, and bring to just a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and let sit until softened, 8 to 10 minutes.
2) Put the besan flour, cornstarch, corn flour, cumin, garam masala, hing, garlic powder, red chile powder, salt, ginger, pepper, soy sauce, and chili sauce in a large bowl. Do not mix. Drain the cauliflower and add to the bowl. Mix with your hands to combine the batter ingredients as you stir the cauliflower into it. Once it’s nearly combined, let sit for 5 minutes. If the batter isn’t a thick but runny paste, add some of the water, a little at a time, and mix until the cauliflower is coated in a thick but runny paste.
3) Fill a large Dutch oven with the oil; it should be about 1 ½ inches up the sides. Heat over medium-high heat until a drop of batter sizzles and floats immediately (about 260 degrees F). Carefully add the cauliflower in batches, letting excess batter drip off, and fry, turning with a spider or slotted spoon, until very brown, 9 to 11 minutes per batch (about 4 batches). As the cauliflower is done, remove to a bowl.
For the sauce
1) In the same skillet you boiled the cauliflower in, add the oil, chili sauce, soy sauce, cornstarch, roasted cumin powder, and garlic powder and stir over medium-high heat for a minute to combine. Then add the water and sugar and let the sauce simmer to thicken, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower to the sauce and stir to coat. Remove from the heat and garnish with cilantro and scallion.
Corn flour is finely ground cornmeal that’s milled from the whole kernel. Cornstarch comes from the endosperm. (Cornmeal is ground from the dried corn kernel.)
Hing is the ground resin of giant fennel plants. Used widely in Indian cooking, often in place of garlic and onion, it has a strong odor that dissipates shortly after being added to the dish.
Rachana buys the Maggi brand of hot and sweet tomato chili sauce.
You can make your own roasted cumin powder by toasting cumin seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat until they lightly brown and smell roasty. Cool before grinding into a powder in a spice grinder.