ORANGE CAULIFLOWER

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Orange Cauliflower

When I was growing up, my family kept pretty strict kosher. This meant separate dishes for milk and meat, bringing PB&J sandwiches to birthday parties where non-kosher pizza was served, and eating in exclusively kosher restaurants. The first time I ate at a non-kosher place was when I was sixteen-years-old. It was Panera. I got a bagel. It was very exciting.

Why am I telling you this? Well, besides the fact that it completely shaped how I eat, and is largely the reason why I became a vegetarian, it means that I have no idea what the majority of chain restaurants are. Like, what is PF Changs? Why are people so obsessed with Taco Bell? What the hell is a Whopper? I seriously have no idea.

Another fun fact about me is that I love cauliflower to death. I really think I could eat it every day and be totally blissed out. One of the best ways to eat cauliflower is to fry it and put fun stuff on top of it. Healthy? Like, no. Delicious? Hell yes.

Orange Cauliflower
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Orange Cauliflower

Does that seem like a non-sequiter? Maybe! But here's where I start to make sense. Apparently the orange chicken at Panda Express is super tasty. Like, it might have cocaine in it due to how obsessed people are with it. In my spare time I tend to daydream about ways to use cauliflower as a substitute in chicken recipes, because cauliflower can be cut into cute nugget shapes and can be, here's that word again, "meaty." (did you feel my shuddering through the screen?). I'm super fun at parties. So, whenever I saw orange chicken posts or recipes I thought, oh damn, I can totally sub fried cauliflower in this. That's how this recipe was born.

This came out so good. Again, no idea if it tastes like Panda Express, but it's divine in its own right. This shouldn't be surprising, considering it's fried cauliflower smothered in a sauce adapted from our favorite evil genius Kenji J. Lopez Alt. The sauce is so flavorful: it's acidic, sweet, slightly salty and savory in the best way. Over a cozy bed of rice, this cauliflower makes an amazing comfort food meal.

Fair warning: you and everything you love in your house will smell like fried food after you make this. Not that this is an inherently bad thing, but frying food in your own home takes real commitment. I have confidence in you, just like I have confidence in the fact that you too will fall in love with this cauliflower regardless of the fact that it was made by a human and not a panda. Or was it?

Love and meows, Rina

Orange Cauliflower

ORANGE CAULIFLOWER

Servings: 6-8 | Cook Time: 45m-1h | Category: Vegan, Main, Asian | Source: adapted from Pinch of Yum and Serious Eats

For cauliflower:

1 head cauliflower

1 cup flour

⅔ cup cornstarch

1 and ½ teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

About ½ water (more or less depending on how humid your area is)

Neutral oil for frying, such as peanut, canola or vegetable

For orange sauce:

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar or distilled white vinegar

3 tablespoons vegetable stock

4 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon roasted sesame seed oil

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

¼ cup juice (about 1 orange's worth of juice)

1 tablespoon corn starch

2 teaspoons peanut, vegetable, or canola oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (about one 1-inch piece)

2 teaspoons thinly sliced scallion bottoms (about 1 scallion)

For the rice:

1 cup rice of choice (we used basmati because that's what we had, but go nuts)

1 and ¾ cups water or vegetable stock

To garnish:

Sesame seeds

Sliced scallions

Prepare the cauliflower: cut up the cauliflower into medium-sized florets - pieces that are bite-sized but have some heft to them. Set aside.

Prepare the orange sauce: combine the soy sauce, vinegar, vegetable stock, sugar, sesame seed oil, orange zest and juice, and cornstarch in a small bowl and stir with a fork until the cornstarch is dissolved. Make sure you get all of those tiny lumps out - if you don't, they'll turn into weird gross gelatinous bits in your otherwise delicious sauce. Set this aside.

Prepare the aromatics: combine the oil of choice, garlic, ginger and sliced scallions in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir a bit and cook until the vegetables are aromatic and soft, but not browned, which will take you about 3 minutes. Take the sauce mixture from above and give it one more stir, making sure to scrape out any sugar or starch that has sunk to the bottom. Add it to the aromatics, and cook until sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Make sure to stir often. Transfer the sauce to a bowl to stop the cooking process.

Prepare the rice: put the rice in a strainer and run under water so that any dirt or other gross bits come off. Place into a medium saucepan and cover with the vegetable stock. Turn the flame to high. When the stock is boiling, cover the rice with a lid and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, then turn the flame off and let the rice sit for a few minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Heat the oil: in a wok or heavy-bottomed pot, add enough oil so that the cauliflower florets will be completely submerged. I tested my level just by putting a piece of cauliflower in my wok and pouring the oil on top of it. Heat the oil to 350 degrees, or when you stick a wooden spoon in the oil bubbles form around it. Continue to next step while oil heats up.

Prepare the batter: in a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add water and whisk to combine. The batter should be thick enough so that it clings to the cauliflower, but excess should be able to drip off. When you drip it from your whisk, it should run down in a thick ribbon.

Coat the florets: the nice, neater way to do this is to individually coat the cauliflower in the batter. The way we do it here at Gateau | Gato is to pour all of the batter onto the cauliflower in the bowl and stir, stir, stir. We used our hands because getting messy is part of the fun. Not your thing? No judgment - just use a wooden spoon or your favorite stirring utensil.

Fry the cauliflower: line some cookie sheets, plates or cooling racks with paper towel. In small batches, place the cauliflower into the oil with a pair of chopsticks or tongs. We use the chopstick method, courtesy of Kenji. This way, oil won't splatter at you when you put the cauliflower in. Let it fry for a couple minutes, then turn it over. Do this a couple of times so that the cauliflower is truly crispy everywhere, and has that gorgeous golden brown color. When done, place the cauliflower on the paper towel to sop up some of the excess oil. Continue this process until all of the cauliflower is done.

Combine the sauce and the cauliflower: put all of the fried cauliflower into a bowl, and pour all of the orange sauce on top. Stir well but gently, so that the cauliflower is coated in sauce evenly but doesn't fall apart.

To serve: lay down some rice in a bowl or on a plate, and top with the cauliflower. To garnish, scatter some sesame seeds and sliced scallions on top. Serve immediately

To keep: like all fried foods, the cauliflower will not stay crunchy past the time it was made. It will still taste delicious as leftovers, but you'll definitely lose the crunch factor. It could be good in a stir fry with other vegetables, or as drunk food at 2:00 AM. That's a decision you'll have to make for yourself.