Vegan Sweet and Sour Cauliflower that tastes much better than takeout! Can be baked in the oven as well.
Take-out style Chinese is one of my biggest weaknesses and I have quite a few recipes that I absolutely love, when I'm craving some takeout. From easy fried rice, to Asian noodle bowls, to cashew chicken and ginger-soy chicken, I can live off these meals forever!
I can never get enough of Indo-Chinese takeout - it is one of my guilty pleasures, and I miss it so much, now that we live in Switzerland. One of my favorite take-out dishes is the much-beloved Indo-Chinese dish, 'Gobi Manchurian' – a popular spiced-up version of sweet and sour cauliflower. The mere thought of this dish is enough to make me crave some even as I’m writing out this blog post!
To satisfy those Gobi Manchurian cravings, I made this sweet and sour cauliflower. I like to think of this dish as a vastly improved version of sweet and sour cauliflower – there’s crispy fried cauliflower, sautéed bell peppers and onions, and a kick-ass sauce. I like to make extra sauce – so that there’s enough to spoon over rice and enjoy as a main course. And believe me, this sauce is so rich and full of flavor that you WILL want to have spoonful’s of it!
Ingredients needed to make sweet and sour cauliflower:
To make this sweet and sour cauliflower you will need:
For the crispy-fried cauliflower:
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
Green bell pepper
Red bell pepper
For the batter: Cornstarch (also known as cornflour), all-purpose flour, pepper, salt
Sesame oil – Sesame oil is the best oil to use for this dish, but you could also use olive oil or any neutral vegetable oil if you don’t have sesame oil on hand.
Green and red bell pepper
For the sauce:
Vinegar – use rice vinegar if you have it, otherwise use apple cider vinegar
Soy sauce – Use either dark soy sauce or light soy sauce, I prefer to use dark soy sauce for this recipe - it has extra umami and a deepek, darker color.
Hot sauce or chili sauce or your choice
Sugar and salt (to season)
Spring onions / scallions
To make this dish, we first make the crispy fried cauliflower florets, then we make the sauce and then toss the cauliflower in the sauce and serve.
For the crispy cauliflower, I prefer to deep fry the batter-coated cauliflower in vegetable oil – the cauliflower can be baked as well, but the deep-fried version is closest to that authentic take-out experience! The cauliflower needs to be par-boiled (50% cooked) before it is deep-fried. This way, the insides remain tender and soft, while the outside crisps up.
Cook the cauliflower florets in water for 3-4 minutes, then drain using a colander and rinse in cold water to stop the cauliflower from cooking further. Toss the par-boiled cauliflower in a little all-purpose flour and keep aside.
In a mixing bowl, make the batter – add the cornstarch, all purpose flour and enough water (add water a little at a time). Whisk well and make a somewhat-thick, lump-free batter – the consistency should be such that the batter coats the cauliflower well and stays on, without dripping too much.
Heat a heavy-bottomed wok with vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add a drop of the batter to the oil, if it bubbles and rises to the surface, the oil is hot enough to start deep-frying the cauliflower. Deep fry the cauliflower in batches, flipping them over midway, so that they are evenly fried.
Once the cauliflower is golden-brown, transfer to a kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Keep aside for later.
Now prepare the sauce for the sweet and sour cauliflower. Add all the ingredients for the sauce into an empty bottle and shake to mix well – this is just like how I like to make salad dressings as well! Keep this sauce aside, we will add it to the wok once the veggies are stir-fried.
To a wok on the stovetop, add sesame oil, and heat. Once hot, add finely chopped ginger and garlic, stir and sauté until aromatic. Then add the bell peppers and the white portion of the spring onions.
Continue to stir on high heat for a minute, and then add the sauces from the bottle. Mix together.
Make a cornstarch slurry by adding 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to 1/3 cup of water. Stir, until lump-free. Add the slurry to the wok and mix it with the rest of the ingredients. The cornstarch will thicken the sauce a little.
Finally, add the deep-fried cauliflower and toss it in the sauce. Turn off the heat, check for seasoning and add salt if need be. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and the green portion of the spring onions.
I like to serve this dish with some jasmine rice – you can increase the amount of sauce in this dish and, and serve it alongside Jasmine rice or noodles. Enjoy!
Can I make this dish gluten-free?
For a gluten-free version of sweet and sour cauliflower, you can replace soy sauce (which contains gluten) with tamari!
Can I avoid deep-frying the cauliflower and bake it instead?
Make a lighter version of this dish by baking the cauliflower instead of deep-frying it. For this, you will need to skip the steps for par-boiling and making the batter. Just follow these simple steps to bake the cauliflower florets:
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 F or 200 C
- Simply transfer the cauliflower florets to a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle 1 tablespoon olive oil over it. Toss the cauliflower with your hands until oil is distributed well. Add 1/3 cup of cornstarch and lightly toss again, until the cornstarch is well distributed.
- Grease a baking sheet with oil or baking spray. Spread the cauliflower evenly on the baking sheet, and bake for around 15 minutes it starts to turn light brown.
- Switch oven to grill (broil) and grill on high for 3 minutes untill lightly brown on top.
Sweet and Sour Cauliflower
- 1 small cauliflower cut into florets (5-6 cups of cauliflower florets)
- For the batter:
- 1+½ tablespoon Cornstarch or corn flour
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon black pepper ground
- pinch Salt
- ⅓ cup of water add more if necessary, to form a semi-thick batter
- To stir-fry:
- ½ inch Ginger minced or finely chopped
- 3 Garlic cloves minced or finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon Sesame oil see notes for substitution
- 1 small Onion finely chopped
- ½ Green bell pepper chopped
- ½ Red bell pepper chopped
- 3-4 Spring onions chopped (reserve green part for garnish)
- For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar see notes for substitution
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce see notes for substitution
- 1 tablespoon Ketchup
- 1 teaspoon chili sauce
- 1 teaspoon corn starch or corn flour
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- pinch Salt to season
- For the cornstarch slurry:
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/3 cup water
- Other ingredients:
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
- Heat 3 cups of water in a pot on the stovetop. Once it comes to a boil, add the cauliflower florets to the water.
- Cook the cauliflower florets in boiling water for 3 minutes, then immediately drain them into a colander or use a slotted spoon to take out the cauliflower. Rinse the cauliflower in cold water to stop them from cooking further. The cauliflower should be around 50% cooked.
- Toss the par-boiled cauliflower in a little all-purpose flour and keep aside.
- In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients listed under batter., and whisk to form a semi-thick lump-free batter.
- Add the cauliflower to the batter and mix such that the cauliflower is well coated in the batter (batter should not drip off the cauliflower too much).
- Heat a heavy-bottomed wok with vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add a drop of the batter to the oil, if it bubbles and rises to the surface, the oil is hot enough to start deep-frying the cauliflower.
- Deep fry the cauliflower in batches, flipping them over midway, so that they are evenly fried. Once the cauliflower is golden-brown, use a slotted spoon transfer to a kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Keep aside for later.
- Add all the ingredients for the sauce into an empty bottle and shake to mix well. Keep bottle aside.
- Heat a wok on the stovetop and add sesame oil. Once hot, add finely chopped ginger and garlic, stir and sauté until aromatic. Add bell peppers and white portion of the spring onions.
- Continue to stir on high heat for a minute, and then add the sauces from the bottle. Mix together.
- Make a cornstarch slurry by adding 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to 1/3 cup of water. Stir, until lump-free. Add the slurry to the wok and mix it with the rest of the ingredients. Let the sauce thicken slightly. Check the taste and add sugar and salt to season.
- Finally, add the deep-fried cauliflower and toss it in the sauce. Turn off the heat, check for seasoning and add salt if need be.
- Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and the green portion of the spring onions. Serve with Jasmine rice or noodles.
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