People have strong feelings about fusion cuisine. I mean, it’s possible that you are a purist and simply loathe mingling of the separate strands of preparing food. Or you are chilled out and welcome some interesting collaborations.
So either you think there is no way a curry can be made with oysters. Or, you wouldn’t think twice about lathering your toast with spicy peanut satay paste. It strikes me that this simple truth holds the key to understanding personalities as well! Ways of cooking, ingredients, secret sauces and spices – I know how they often bring out long-buried parts of our psyches. But whichever way you look at it, I guarantee this recipe in today’s Yum Posts is going to go down easy.
I grew up in India, and my first love has always been Indian food. It’s interesting how we develop an affinity with the food we eat as children. It’s no wonder that the term ‘comfort food’ has a strong resonance with the flavours of our childhood. Do you remember some of the foods you ate as a child? For me, the simple rice and lentils dish, with a side of julienned potatoes stir-fried in mustard oil that my mother made often, holds no parallel. It remains a source of warmth and comfort to me even today.
As I grew older, I realized how many types of food there were in the world – all of these just asking to be tasted. But, in the early 80s, I was a student and did not have much money. On special occasions, we (my gang of super-cool girls!) went to eat ‘Chinese’. Now, the Chinese restaurants in our city at that time were mostly what we could fairly call ‘Indo-Chinese’. That is, they were fusion restaurants, practicing a marriage of Indian and Chinese elements. They were adept at using ginger, garlic, and green chilli paste with cornflour, soya sauce and diced chicken.
So here we were, a group of broke, but cheerful students who had contributed to a common ‘kitty’, heading enthusiastically to the nearest Chinese restaurant. Amid swift calculations by our resident math whiz (so that we had enough to cover the bill), we nearly always ordered two plates of noodles, two plates of chilli chicken and a couple of sodas. That’s it. And we shared. The noodles glistened with oil, the chicken on our tongues appeared sharp and spicy, and the sodas were bubbles of delicious coolness sliding down our throats. Ah the ecstasy!
Way into Manchuria
I laugh softly at the now-distant memory. And promptly got into the kitchen to re-create that taste. But instead of chicken, I decided to make the dish with cauliflower. So, drum roll: I believe this is called Cauliflower Manchurian!
Cutting up the washed cauliflower into medium sized florets, I plunged them into boiling water. That’s the blanching process. It takes maybe 3 minutes. Fishing those florets out of the boiling water, I allow them to cool for a bit. Then they go into a big bowl, awaiting a dusting of cornflour, soya sauce, ginger paste, garlic paste, and salt. With a big old spoon, I mix the florets up to coat them with this magic batter.
In the wok, the oil sizzles and steams and I slide the coated florets in carefully. A heavenly aroma swims through the kitchen. My stomach growls in anticipation. But I work away, frying up the florets and storing them in a fragrant heap.
Next I slice up some red and green peppers. Lovely, long slivers of colour, the peppers will add pep to the Manchurian. And vegetables are good for you, right? Virtuously I snap off the tails of asparagus and chop up some onions as well. Now, you are free to add other varieties of vegetables. Broccoli, green beans, even baby corn are great additions.
Once again, the wok becomes the scene of action. I sauté the vegetables lightly, lowering the heat to allow even browning. In the wok, I slip in some more of the delicious ginger and garlic paste, some soya sauce, tomato chilli sauce, salt. The heap of florets joins its brothers in the wok in 2 minutes. All of them come together in a satisfying mix.
On to the waiting serving dish, and if you are a fan of cilantro, sprinkle some on top. Have this with plain boiled noodles, or tortillas, or even steamed basmati rice.