4 to 6 servings
There are many ways to spin this recipe, which originally came to me courtesy of my friend Suvir Saran. According to Suvir, the original version is closely associated with the Chinatown in Calcutta, where it’s a common street food. The two-step process includes deep-frying, but the work goes quickly. And people go nuts for it.
Good-quality vegetable oil
2/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
1 large or 2 small heads cauliflower, separated into florets
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1. Put at least 2 inches oil in a deep pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high; bring to 350°F.
2. While the oil is heating, beat together the eggs and cornstarch until well blended in a bowl large enough to hold the cauliflower. Season the batter with the pepper and salt, then add the cauliflower. Use your hands to toss until the florets are coated evenly.
3. Fry the cauliflower in batches small enough not to crowd your pan or fryer and be sure to let the oil return to temperature (350°F) between batches. Fry until the florets take on a pale, sandy color, with a little brown mottling, about 5 minutes; transfer to paper towels to drain.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick pan over medium heat and immediately add the garlic. Cook for a minute or 2, until fragrant but not colored, then add the ketchup. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce bubbles, thickens, and starts to caramelize around the edges of the pan. Add the cayenne; taste and add salt as necessary. Toss the cauliflower in the sauce until coated evenly and serve.
Roasted Cauliflower, Manchurian Style
Easier, but without the batter: Omit the eggs and cornstarch. Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the cauliflower in a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon each pepper and salt. Toss until well coated. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the cauliflower is tender and golden. During the last 5 minutes or so of roasting, pre- pare the sauce as described in Step 4 and proceed with the recipe.