There is a famous dish in India called Cauliflower Manchurian, which no actual Manchurian person would probably recognize. For that matter, those actual Manchurian people, from the mythical land of Manchuria? They probably wouldn’t call themselves Manchurian either. This is an ancient term that I believe came from the tribe of Manchu, but then became a generic term for a region around the north east of China, and a part of Mongolia. As far as I could determine, it is now used to refer to only two things: The film/novel ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, and this dish — Gobi/Cauliflower Manchurian.
A long time ago a Chinese community that had settled in eastern India created this dish, with Chinese ingredients but an Indian sensibility. They were either from the ethnic Manchu tribe, or perhaps they picked a word that suggested something vague, like ‘from yonder eastern lands’?
In any case, this is one of the most famous Indian Chinese dishes, served in restaurants, and also recreated in many homes, including mine as I was growing up. I recently remembered this dish and made it at home to go with fried rice. As is my wont, I modified it; it is already a hodge-podge between Indian and Chinese, and I added Californian to the mix — what that means, is that instead of deep-frying the cauliflower, I microwaved and roasted it, in order to make it somewhat healthier. This made enough for dinner for two, with no leftovers.
It got high marks from my foremost customer and critic, my husband. So here goes:
Californian Cauliflower Manchurian
- Half a cauliflower, cut into half inch wide florets
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- half an inch piece of ginger
- 1 serrano green chili
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- half a cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon chili sauce, like Lee Kum Kee or Sriracha
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon Ketchup or Worcestershire sauce
- salt to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons oil
Rinse the cauliflower florets. Set them in a plate and microwave on high for 3 minutes. This will get them cooked on the inside and avoid the need to deep-fry. Next, for surface browning, rub salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil over them, and pop into a 425 F oven for 20 minutes, turning once in the middle. In retrospect I should have broiled it for the last 5 minutes to get it even browner.
Meanwhile prepare the sauce. Mince garlic, ginger and chili and keep aside.
In a bowl, mix the chicken broth, soy sauce, chili sauce, cornstarch and ketchup or Worcestershire sauce.
Heat two tablespoons oil in a wide pan. When it shimmers, put in the garlic, ginger and chili, to saute them gently. By this point the cauliflower should be ready and browned, put it into the pan and stir the seasonings with it. Doesn’t hurt to adjust the cauliflower for salt at this point, even though the salty soy sauce is yet to come, one wants the cauliflower to not be bland in itself.
Now it is time for the liquid mixture to be poured in. Stir, stir, stir to coat the florets. As it comes to a boil, the cornstarch will congeal and make the mixture shiny. You want it to go all over the cauliflower.
Your dish is ready, but you need garnish. This is what I used for garnish: sliced chili in some white vinegar, heated for 20 seconds in the microwave.
We had it for dinner with this lovely fried rice with purple cabbage, the recipe for which will have to come some other time.