Sunday, July 17, 2011

Battered cauliflower

Don't you hate it when someone yanks the carpet from under you?

You see, I recently got crazy-addicted to a cauliflower side dish sold at an Indian restaurant near my workplace:  spicy, lightly-battered and deep fried, I used to buy a couple portions of the cauliflower dish two or three times a week for dinner. It was sooo good. Crunchy on the outside, soft inside; spicy outside and deliciously mild inside.

Then last week, I noticed that the dish looked a little different. The batter was thicker and I could see that it was seasoned differently.  I tried it. It was still tasty but it wasn't as good as the original. Too much batter. Not crunchy enough. Couldn't taste the cauliflower.


I consulted the proprietor and he explained that he had hired a new chef and this was his recipe. "Whhhyyyyyy," I cried. No really, I did.

Accck! Carpet. Pulled. From under me.

I was devastated. What was I to do now? Sulk, sulk, sulk.

I had no other choice but to try and make the dish myself. I knew it was a fairly common dish in Indian establishments and so I went online to see if I could find recipes for it. Basically, what I needed was a recipe for the batter.

Yup, there were many, many recipes online. I printed out a couple of recipes and bought 1kg of cauliflower on my way home from work.

First batch: batter was just too eggy.

The first recipe I picked looked great online. It was spicy (cardamom, cinnamon, cumin) and it was enhanced with some chopped parsley and chilli. Sounded promising. But, there were some problems:

* The recipe for the batter also called for six eggs. SIX eggs for a large head of cauliflower (unfortunately the recipe didn't indicate how many grams a 'large' head of cauliflower was).  Six eggs sounded too much and so I reduced it by half and added some light stock to keep the consistency of the batter. Despite cutting down the eggs by half, the batter was still very eggy. No go!

*  The recipe also called for a teaspoon of baking powder into the batter: this made the batter kind of fluffy instead of crispy. No go!

I didn't think I could finish the entire bowl of the eggy-battered veg as is and so I made myself a healthy yoghurt dip to go with it. It was slightly better but still eggy.

I decided that the next batch of batter I made would not have a single egg. I settled on a recipe from Jamie Oliver. His batter was akin to that used in Japanese tempura: light and crispy.

Yes! I decided to go with it, adding a little more spice to suit my palette.

The result: SUCCESS. It didn't taste like the dish I bought from the shop but it was so terribly tasty that I didn't care.

The beer makes the batter light and crunchy (some use sparkling water) and it also gives it a really nice colour -- a vibrant yellow.

The secret ingredient

I followed Jamie's advice and included some other vegetables as well: flat-leaf parsley (isn't the green so lovely) and some carrots too.

I was happy. I still intend to recreate the dish from the restaurant but until then, this would more than suffice.

The good and the not so good: Jamie's beer batter (left) was light and bright; see the contrast with the too-eggy batter? 
Cauliflower, battered and fried.

450 g cauliflower, cut into florets
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
11/2 cup all purpose flour and 2 tbsp more for dusting

200 ml ice-cold beer
1 tsp roasted ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
5 whole black peppercorns, crushed and pounded

Steam cauliflower florets for about 10 mins or until slightly tender (till you can poke a fork through them).

Make the batter: mix the flour, salt, pepper, spices together. Add the beer, a little at a time and stir till all ingredients are well incorporated. It doesn't matter if the batter is slightly lumpy. The consistency of the batter should be like that of double cream. Add more beer if necessary.

Lightly dab the cauliflower florets with a clean dishcloth and dust them with the 2 tbsp flour. Dust some flour on the parsley too.

Head about 2cm oil in a skillet. When hot, dip the cauliflower in the batter and then slide it into the oil. Keep the bowl with the batter close to the skillet so you don't drip the batter on your counter top.
Fry for about 2 mins or so per side or until the batter turns a lovely, golden yellow. 

Drain on paper towels and repeat. Do the same with the parsley but be mindful that these cook quicker than the cauliflower.

Dust with some sea salt. Jamie squeezes a lemon over them but they taste great even without the lemon. 


  1. That looks so yum! I definitely would love to try this at home too. And I totally agree that whenever a favorite restaurant changes chef, it certainly feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you.

  2. If it's an Indian restaurant, they probably used something like chickpea flour for a light consistancy!

  3. Smishingtrip: Yes, I was contemplating using chick pea flour too. Will give it a go! thanks

  4. Oh, so tempting! Dare I deep-fry again, that is the question. :D


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