Cauliflower Manchurian

It was a chance encounter that first led me to Masalas, an authentic Indian restaurant near my local Whole Foods. I had no idea that a simple grocery run would, in the end, leave me literally so full I could not have had another bite.

The building that Masalas currently occupies used to be a Baja Fresh, but it had closed down. The old Baja Fresh’s signage was quickly replaced with “Masalas Authentic Indian Cuisine…Coming Soon.” I thought it was a clever name, but I did not really give it a second thought until months after the sign change.

It was pure dumb luck I was running to the grocery store with my son the night Masalas decided to give its kitchen a dry run. Noticing that people were walking into the restaurant and sitting down, I let curiosity get the better of me and drug my son into the place, which was still not-so-stylishly decorated in the black-and-white checked flooring and stark white counters of Baja Fresh and asked if they were open.

Chandra, the project manager in charge of launching the restaurant told me they were testing the kitchen and insisted I try some of the food. He sat me down and started off with a carrot pudding flavored with coconut that was almost too sweet to eat, but too good not to finish. I was surprised that it did not have raisins or other dried fruit.

The first entree he gave me was called Cauliflower Manchurian, a dish that came to India in the 1960s when Chinese immigrants moved to the country. Those immigrants began cooking the dish and it quickly became highly popular, even as Indian cooks began adding their own spices and making it their own. The end result was a dish had a taste in between kung po cauliflower and aloo gobi (an Indian dish with cauliflower in a yellow curry.) The dish is a little sweet, a little hot, a little salty, and has flavors more reminiscent of China due to the use of soy sauce.

I was blown away. They gave me five other dishes and they were good, but nothing came even close to Cauliflower Manchurian. I wanted more. I had to stop myself from licking the plate. In the end, I was given a score card. Nothing got below a 7 on a scale from 1 to 10, though nothing came close to the cauliflower’s high score of 21. At the end of the night, I thanked Chandra and left his restaurant, but I was already hungry for more of that fantastic Cauliflower Manchurian.

That was in May. For some reason, I thought that Masalas was a few weeks, maybe a month away from opening for business. One month passed. Then another and then another. Every now and then I would see Chandra at Whole Foods and I would ask when Masalas was going to be open. The need for more Cauliflower Manchurian was turning from a desire into an obsession and I needed to know. I was told “Soon.”

For four months I waited until again, out of sheer happenstance, I was going to get groceries when the signage at Masalas changed. This time it read: “Now Open.”

I canceled my dinner plans, walked in and ordered the buffet. I had a fantastic meal. I tried everything, but when I went back for seconds, my plate contained only one dish. It was made with cauliflower.

I left the restaurant stuffed, but I still have not gotten enough Cauliflower Manchurian.

If you want to try Cauliflower Manchurian for yourself, Chandra was nice enough to share his recipe.

For the cauliflower dumplings:

  • 10 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sriracha or sambal olek
  • 1 teaspoon of MSG (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • ½ tablespoon of pepper
  • ½ tablespoon of sugar
  • The juice of 1 lime
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into cubes

For the sauce:

  • 1 small onion per head of cauliflower, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • The juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon of MSG (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of ketchup

First, make the dumplings by combining all the ingredients except for the cauliflower in a mixing bowl and add water until it forms a smooth, pancake-like batter. Taste the batter at this stage, it should taste delicious. If not, adjust the seasons accordingly.

Add the cauliflower and toss to evenly coat and let sit for 15 minutes.

Deep fry the cauliflower in a neutral oil and drain.

To make the sauce, cook the onions, ginger, garlic, and spring onions in the olive oil until the onions are soft. Add the cauliflower dumplings and the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

As an alternative, you can leave out the dumplings and add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons of water and thicken the sauce first. Then add the cauliflower and cook long enough for the dumplings to get coated and warm.

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