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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cauliflower Nuggets

Menu Note:
  • You can substitute these for curly fries as a side dish for any meal, adding more seasoning to the batter if the version below is not spicy enough. We thought it went especially well with Maggie Ruggiero's Fish Tagine on Epicurious, when I made both for last night's dinner.

The Ingredients (for 4 to 6 servings):

  • 260 g (or 2 cups) of chick-pea flour (also called gram, channa, or besan)
  • 7 g (or 1 teaspoon) of salt
  • 5 g (or ½ teaspoon) of Cayenne pepper
  • 5 g (or ½ teaspoon) of ground cumin
  • 15 ml (or 1 tablespoon) of tamarind concentrate
  • 1 cauliflower
  • Cooking grade ("pure") olive oil

The Method:
  1. Mix the salt, pepper, and cumin into the chick-pea flour.
  2. Dissolve the tamarind concentrate into 350 ml (or 1½ cups) of water.
  3. With a fork, slowly but thoroughly mix the tamarind mixture into the chick-pea flour mixture until there are no large lumps and very few tiny ones.
  4. Allow the batter to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then adjust it to your desired consistency by adding a small amount of either water or chick-pea flour.
  5. Allow the batter to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes more, and do a final check for consistency.
  6. Meanwhile, wash and trim the cauliflower into bite-size florets.
  7. Allow the cauliflower pieces to drain or pat them dry before dipping in batter.
  8. Heat sufficient olive oil in a deep pan or an electric deep-fry to 190°C (or 375°F).
  9. Mix the cauliflower pieces into the batter, turning them over and over with the fork until they are completely covered in batter.
  10. Fry the battered cauliflower in small batches so that they do not stick together in the oil. 
  11. Fry each batch for 4 minutes, making sure that the oil temperature returns to 190°C (or 375°F) between batches.

    The Story:
    The origins of this family favorite date back to before our marriage. My husband-to-be used to come home from work on, let's say, Thursdays, and say happily that they had "French fried cauliflower" in the cafeteria at lunch. After hearing this several times over as many weeks, I got the message (I was always the main cook) and asked some questions about how he thought it was prepared. Deep frying is not a comfortable activity for me or for anyone around me when I'm doing it. Nowadays I have a small electric deep fryer and I am much less accident-prone. But at that time, I took it as a challenge.
    I tried a few types of batter, and settled on one out of a Chinese cookbook—wheat flour and cornstarch were the main ingredients—that took us through to the end of the 1990s. Somewhere along the way we tried the French fried cauliflower with some Taiwanese barbecue sauce, and it was a perfect match. Now it's a staple in our pantry.
    In the new recipe above, chick-pea flour is substituted for the flours with higher glycemic indices. I just have to start thinking about batter before anything else because the chick-pea flour is bitter and gritty without the soak in water. It is also improved by the addition of more seasoning than I would ever put in a wheat flour batter. 

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