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.)
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.