Gobi Manchurian - Indian-Chinese Cauliflower Fritters

I was first introduced to Indian Chinese food a few years ago in Hong Kong, at a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui whose name now escapes me. My first thought was, "This is Chinese food?" My second thought was, "How ironic." The cuisine of China, brought over to India by Chinese immigrants many generations ago and given an Indian make-over, is now in the 21st century being brought to a special administrative region of China by Indian immigrants.

Chinese food developed in India the way it does around the world: by immigrants using techniques from home to cook their new world ingredients. They begin by feeding themselves, then perhaps open a restaurant to earn a living, thus adapting the food even more to suit local palettes.

Indian-Chinese cuisine incorporates not only Chinese ingredients like soy sauce and and ginger, but also cumin, turmeric, and hot chilis. Neither beef nor pork, the de facto meat of China, are used, because of India's large Hindu and Muslim populations. That leaves chicken, lamb, and vegetables as the mainstays.

And even the vegetables used in Indian-Chinese cooking may seem foreign to the Chinese. Gobi Manchurian, one of the dishes I had in HK many years ago, is cauliflower fritters covered in a sweet-sour-spicy sauce. ("Gobi" is cauliflower in Punjabi; "Manchurian", the name for any sweet and sour sauce, has no basis in the historical Chinese region.)

The technique for making gobi Manchurian is not unlike those for other overseas Chinese dishes, such as sweet and sour pork and sesame chicken. (We immigrants sure love our deep-fried food.) You marinate the main protein or vegetable, coat it, fry it, and make a sauce coating. Here, however, instead of plain cornstarch these cauliflower florets take a dip in a batter laced with cayenne and chili garlic paste. And the sauce, which incorporates caramelized onions, chili peppers, and ketchup, is a nice balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy.

Update: Related Indian-Chinese Recipe: Chicken Lollipops


Gobi Manchurian - Indian-Chinese Cauliflower Fritters Adapted from Saveur

Serves 4 as an appetizer or part of a multi-course meal

10 to 12 cloves garlic 1 piece ginger, peeled and sliced into coins, + 1 teaspoon julienned ginger 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets 2⁄3 cup cornstarch 2⁄3 cup flour 1 tsp. cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper 2 tsp. plus 3 tbsp. soy sauce Peanut oil 2 small onions, chopped 8 to 10 fresh bird's eye chilis, thinly sliced 3/4 cup ketchup 2 teaspoons sesame oil Cilantro leaves for garnish

1. In a blender, purée garlic, ginger slices, and 1⁄3 cup water. Set aside.

2. In a a pot of salted water, cook cauliflower until tender, about 5 to minutes. Drain, pat dry with a clean towel, and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, mix together cornstarch, flour, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Stir in half the garlic paste, 2 tsp. soy sauce, and 3⁄4 cup water to form a batter.

3. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Working in batches, dip cauliflower in batter, then fry until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer fritters with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

4. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté onions until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add chilis and remaining garlic paste and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add ketchup, remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1⁄3 cup water; simmer until sauce is thickened, about 1–2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Return drained cauliflour to the wok and toss to coat. Transfer to serving plate(s), garnish with julienned ginger and cilantro, and serve as an appetizer or with rice as a main entree.



Mango and Cardamom Lassi + Coconut and Lime Lassi

The first days of spring usually means two things: time to stuff the winter clothes away, and the start of many months of extensive blender use. Sure, during the winter I break out the blender now and then, for ginger tea, homemade almond milk, and all that good stuff. But when the sun is beating down on my face anytime I go outside before 6, I develop serious cravings for cold frothy drinks. Daily cravings.

I love getting mango lassis at Indian restaurants, so I tried my hand at making them at home. Jenny Lou's, one of Beijing's import stores, carries tubs of fresh, locally made, and sugarless yogurt (for less than 7 kuai) that's better than the big brand yogurts around China. My mango lassis was pretty basic: just yogurt, sugar, chunks of ripe mango, and a pinch of cardamom. Then I tried making a coconut lime lassi, which probably isn't even a traditional flavor, though I've seen it on restaurant menus here and there.

(Apparently sweet lassis are more of a recent invention. Salted lassis, cumin lassis, and saffron lassis are more popular in certain regions of India. If anyone can confirm, or know of a recipe, please share!)

As for the coconut lime lassi, I made the mistake at first of putting in 1 part coconut milk to 1 part yogurt. It tasted just like thick coconut cream with a hint of sourness, a little too heavy. I adjusted the portions, reblended, and it turned out great.

Mango and Cardamom Lassi

Makes 2 drinks

1 large ripe mango, cut into chunks 1 1/2 cups yogurt 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, plus extra for sprinkling on top

Put mango, yogurt, sugar, and cardamom in a blender. Blend until even and frothy, about 30 seconds. Add more sugar until it's sweet enough to your liking. Pour into a pitcher or glasses and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. When ready, sprinkle some extra cardomom on top, then serve.

Coconut and Lime Lassi

Makes 2 drinks

1/2 cup coconut milk 1 1/2 cups yogurt 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste Juice from 1 lime Thinly sliced lime circles for garnish, optional

Put coconut milk, yogurt, sugar, and lime juice in a blender. Blend until even and frothy, about 30 seconds. Add more sugar until it's sweet enough to your liking. Pour into a pitcher or glasses and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Both the mango and coconut lassis will keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours. However, if you're going to let the coconut lassi chill in the fridge for a few hours or more, the coconut liquid is going to separate from the cream again, just as it does in the tin. So shake the lassi up if that happens.