Deep-frying is like the icing sugar of cookery – it just makes everything taste so much better! This crisp, battered manifestation of the humble cauli is based on one of the dishes I can never resist when I go to a Chinese restaurant: salt and pepper squid. The batter is laced with mouth-tingling Sichuan peppercorns, which are dry-roasted to tease out their fragrance and flavour, along with some more assertive black peppercorns for a bit of heat. Importantly, the popcorn should really be scarfed as soon as it hits the plate.
Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Photography: Kristin Perers
Food Styling: Joss Herd & Lizzie Kamenetzky, assisted by Hattie Arnold
Prop styling: Tabitha Hawkins
For the cauliflower
1 cauliflower, cut into small florets
Small handful of Thai basil leaves
6 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 red chillies, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Groundnut oil, for deep-frying
Lime wedges, to serve
For the dipping sauce
100ml Chinkiang black vinegar
80ml light soy sauce
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Small thumb of ginger, finely grated
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
For the batter
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp sea salt
200g plain flour
4 tbsp cornflour
About 300ml ice-cold sparkling water
To make the dipping sauce, simply whisk together all the ingredients.
For the batter, heat a dry frying pan over medium heat and toast the peppercorns until they are aromatic. Tip into a pestle and mortar, along with the salt, and crush to a coarse powder. Empty out into a mixing bowl, add both flours and mix well.
Now whisk in the sparkling water, adding just enough to make a batter with a double-cream consistency, and being careful not to overbeat.
Fill a large, heavy-based saucepan a third full with the deep-frying oil. Heat the oil to 180°C – if you don’t have a thermometer, you will know the oil is ready when a cube of bread turns golden brown in 20 seconds.
Dip the pieces of cauliflower into the batter, one at a time, letting the excess drip off, and deep-fry until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Dip the basil leaves in batter and fry in the same way.
When you have finished frying the cauliflower and basil leaves, carefully pour out most of the oil from the pan, leaving just a few tablespoons. Place over medium–high heat and flash-fry the spring onions, chillies and garlic for a minute or so, until the garlic is just beginning to colour. Drain on kitchen paper, scatter over the cauliflower and toss.
Serve immediately, with lime wedges for squeezing and the dipping sauce alongside.
Ravinder writes as beautifully and eloquently as she speaks. Her recipes are woven with stories of the kitchens and cultures she grew up in, and the ones she loves and lives with today. Recipe taken from Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen by Ravinder Bhogal (£26, Bloomsbury). Photography © Kristin Perers.