With General Tso’s Cauliflower, you get cauliflower florets dipped in batter and fried to a crispy crunch. These little yum-balls are then covered in a Chinese-inspired sticky, sweet and tangy sauce. A vegetarian version of General Tso’s Chicken resembling the equally famous Gobi Manchurian- it’s a winner every time!
If you don’t know about General Tso’s Cauliflower or Gobi Manchurian, you are in for such a treat! This dish is adored by anyone who has the good luck to come upon it. Call it what you will, it’s a taste sensation that truly rules!
I was checking out recipes one day and saw several posts for General Tso’s Cauliflower. I was surprised to discover this huge trend I had missed out on while I was living outside of the USA.
By the time I heard about General Tso’s, it was a couple of years after the big excitement, but still. A bit of research showed me that this is a vegetarian version of General Tso’s Chicken, of North American Chinese buffet restaurant fame. As we are not big fans of those huge Chinese buffets, I haven’t been aware of the vegetarian version of this dish that takes form as General Tso’s Cauliflower. It is actually vegan, as it contains no dairy or meat whatsoever.
So, I was feeling all left out that I hadn’t even known about this yummy sounding dish. Then I saw all the mouth-watering photos and recipes and all of a sudden, bells are going off in my head. And I start thinking… ”Hey wait a minute! This recipe sounds and looks a whole lot like…” (sifting through my memory bank by this point)… “Ok, got it!!”
General Tso’s Cauliflower Almost = Gobi Manchurian
I’ve mentioned before that we lived in India over several years and one of our favorite snack items was Gobi Manchurian. (Hint: “gobi” means cauliflower in Hindi) There are quite a few Indo-Chinese recipes that have made it into popular Indian street food and restaurants and this is one of the really great ones – cauliflower florets dipped in batter and deep fried. The fried cauliflower balls are then covered in a homemade garlicky-gingery sweet and sour type sticky sauce that contains green bell pepper chunks and is then garnished with green onions…
Sounding familiar, yet?? If you know anything about General Tso’s Cauliflower, the ingredients are almost exactly the same!
Funny enough, the histories of both General Tso’s Chicken and Gobi Manchurian are quite similar. For example – General Tso’s Chicken is supposedly a Hunan Province recipe, and western foodies have apparently gone there and tried to find it, but couldn’t locate anyone who had ever heard of this dish in Hunan.
On the other hand, Gobi Manchurian apparently originated with Chinese immigrants to India who became restaurateurs in places like Calcutta or Bombay (Mumbai), arbitrarily naming the dish Gobi Manchurian… although, according to urban legend, it is not something that Manchurians have ever heard of at all.
No matter what you call it, the end result is amazing. And so addicting. There are just a couple of differences between General Tso’s Cauliflower and Gobi Manchurian. The Indian dish usually includes chopped green pepper chunks in the sauce and they do not garnish with sesame seeds.
Frankly, I don’t think anyone is really that interested in chunks of bell pepper when there are those big, sticky cauliflower balls begging to be eaten. Gobi Manchurian recipes also include chili sauce (since every dish in India includes ground chili pepper or fresh chilies as a prime ingredient). And I do think that a little punch of spice is a good addition to the dish. Gobi Manchurian also has minced onion in the sauce, which I added into mine.
Having never prepared either dish, I initially decided to do a sort of mash-up of the two with the ingredients I had on hand.
An amazing blend of crispy fried coating and that spicy sweet and tangy sauce… oh, so tasty! I really love this version of the recipe – you have to give a try! General Tso’s Cauliflower is not something you can whip up in a few short minutes, but none of the steps are difficult. It just takes a bowl, a pot, and a pan… and a bit of time to get the batter and sauce put together and do the frying. But, looking at the results, (and eating them!!) it’s well worth the effort!
Some recipes for General Tso’s Cauliflower lay out the preparation steps so that you fry the cauliflower florets first and then make the sauce and combine the two afterwards. Or you boil the sauce at the same time as frying. For me, it works better to make up the sauce first, as it has to boil for up to 15 minutes to get the cornstarch all glossy and translucent. I set the sauce aside and then fry the cauliflower.
That way, I can focus on getting the frying perfect without distraction, and there is less time that the fried cauliflower pieces have to lose their crispiness before you put them in the sauce. You want those fried florets to be ever-so crispy and crunchy. Once the cauliflower pieces are all fried up, I put the sauce back on the already hot burner and it will begin to bubble again in just a few moments. Remove the sauce from the heat, add in the cauliflower, gently mix and you’re done.
Anyway, that’s how it works best for me, after several times of trying this recipe and experimenting with prep methods.
Call it what you will, General Tso’s Cauliflower, or Gobi Manchurian – you can’t help but love this dish! If you want to show your friends that vegetarian or vegan food can be amazing, or if you just want an incredibly tasty appetizer or main, this is the dish for you!
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General Tso’s Cauliflower
- 20 cauliflower florets, rinsed and drained
- oil for deep frying
- green onions, chopped for garnish
- sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
For the sauce:
- 1 TBSP sesame oil
- 1 knob ginger, finely grated about 1 TBSP
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 TBSP onion, minced
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- 1 TBSP +1 tsp soy sauce
- ½ cup vegetable broth or water more as needed
- ⅛-¼ cup sugar (to taste)
- 2-3 pinches cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes or ½ tsp chili sauce to taste
- 1 TBSP cornstarch, in separate cup; add enough water to melt the cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, to taste or another vinegar of your choice
For the batter:
- ½ cup flour
- 1 egg, whisked in separate cup
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 TBSP corn starch
- ½ teaspoon salt, adjust to taste
- water, enough to make a smooth, thick batter
Making the batter:
- Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl
- Add in whisked egg
- Add enough water to make a thick, smooth batter for dipping the cauliflower florets. Make sure that the batter is thick enough to stick to the cauliflower but won’t slide off of the pieces and make a puddle at the bottom of the pan. (I speak from experience!)
- Set batter aside
Making the Sauce:
- Heat sesame oil in a small pot on medium-low.. Sauté the garlic, ginger and onion until garlic is cooked; about 1-2 minutes
- Add the additional ingredients and stir together
- Cook on medium-low heat for at least 15 minutes until the corn starch is translucent and the sauce is thickened; add water as needed.
Frying the Cauliflower:
- Add oil to a large skillet, enough to cover cauliflower pieces about halfway.
- When oil is hot enough for frying, reduce heat slightly
- Dip each floret in batter and cover completely, tapping against side of bowl to remove excess. Set each piece carefully in the oil and fry, turning each piece more than once so that all sides are thoroughly browned and crispy. Remove each piece when done and set on a wire rack (with paper towel underneath to drain. (Great suggestion from Pinch of Yum to ensure that the pieces stay crispy and don’t get soggy!)
- When frying is completed, remove frying pan from heat and put the sauce pot on the already heated burner. The sauce will start bubbling quickly. Heat thoroughly, stirring to make sure sauce does not stick. Remove pot from burner and immediately drop in the fried cauliflower florets.
- Turn the florets gently into the sauce, completely covering each floret in sauce
- Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds, if desired
- Serve immediately and enjoy!
Have you tried General Tso’s Cauliflower or Gobi Manchurian? Which version do you like better? I’d love to hear from you if you try my version or if you want to share what you think of other versions out there!