Tonight's dinner was an all-out winner. It had no protein (which Wendy thinks I worry about too much anyhow) and was 100% vegetarian (which Mir's daughter might not believe, but it's true!). (Well, in terms of protein, there were some eggs in the batter, but a negligible amount per serving.) EVERYONE LOVED IT, and I think we would have all eaten more if I'd doubled the batch. I will most definitely make this again, but I will do a proper mise en place next time, rather than rushing around measuring little bits of this and that every second. There's a lot going on, and you will have plenty of dishes to do, but it's not tricky and it's worth it. Really. Oh, and get your white rice steaming at some point, or make it ahead of time, because you for sure don't need to be tending another pan.
For the cauliflower:
½ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup cornstarch
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
½ cup neutral oil (like peanut or vegetable)
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets (I used two smallish heads, and we ate every last bit.)
For the sauce:
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
6 scallions, white parts finely chopped, green parts cut into 1-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
5 small dried chiles (optional) (I left this out.)
¼ cup vegetable broth
¼ cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional) (I left this out.)
First, make the cauliflower:
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.
2. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, soy sauce, and vinegar.
3. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour, whisking constantly. You should end up with a thick but still dippable batter—thin with a little water if needed. (I did not need to add water, but it was a strange texture indeed, like a peanut dipping sauce.)
4. Heat the oil in a medium cast iron skillet until very hot.
5. Dip each piece of cauliflower fully in the batter, then place in the oil. (Update 1/9/17: Wendy suggested dumping all the cauli into the batter and tossing it around, then using a slotted spoon or your hands to transfer it to the skillet. I tried it and she's right—it's MUCH easier!) Pan-fry the cauliflower until it’s golden on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on absorbent paper towels.
Next, or meanwhile, make the sauce:
1. In a medium pot, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the scallion whites, garlic, ginger, and chiles (if using), and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Add the broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and mirin, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar and cornstarch to combine. Pour about ¼ cup of the hot sauce over the mixture, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth and lump free. Return the mixture to the pot and bring to a simmer. Stir in the green scallion pieces.
4. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and has good flavor, 7 to 9 minutes more. (Mine was already VERY thick and sticky, so I cooked it for only a minute or so.)
5. Add the cauliflower to the pot and toss to coat until the cauliflower is rewarmed, 4 to 5 minutes. (Again, I did not want the sauce to reduce any more, so I accelerated this step.)
6. Serve immediately, garnished with sesame seeds (if using) and with a side of steamed rice.
So, I think next time I will start with more cauliflower (although I don't think I will need more batter) and then double the sauce recipe, so that the cauliflower is completely coated but there's extra for the rice. (Update 1/9/17: I did just that and it worked out great!) This was really, really delicious.