What used to be an exotic Chinese appetizer long back is now part of Indian street-food, what with the thela-wallas spewing out batch after batch of fiery-red coloured Manchurian from their mammoth-sized woks, while another guy churns out fried rice from an equally mammoth-sized wok, if not bigger. And 2-3 others, the assistants (sadly mostly child labourers), ensuring they put measured portions of the Fried-rice and Manchurian onto steel plates which have been topped with banana leaves (aaah, the South-Indian touch!) and hand them over, along with spoons and lopsided forks (if you could call them that, cos they’d be so disfigured you couldn’t tell they originally looked like forks!) to the ever-waiting deluge of customers…most of them, koochi-kooing couples passing-by to try and delay going home, or hungry people going back home after work, wanting to grab a quick bite, or some foodies generally hanging around the place cos the thela-walla is famous for his ‘Chenise’ food. Oh yes, I’ve seen atrocious versions for the way ‘Chinese’ is spelt on all these thelas! All this, believe me, will be happening in a kind of luggage auto, modified brilliantly (no, not a DC!) to accommodate everything – the mammoth-sized woks, 2 stoves, ladles, spoons, those lopsided forks, steel plates, big vessels to put in the readied food, oil cans and what not…you get the drift!
Though Baby-corn Manchurian is not so commonly prepared by the thela-wallas, its sibling, Gobi Manchurian out-does itself in each thela! Did you know they add curry leaves, coriander leaves and what not to Indian-ise it?!! They do their bit to prove that Indian cooking cannot happen without curry leaves and coriander leaves. I’ve even seen a tadka being used for Gobi Manchurian at some place!
Read on, for an authentic, healthier, non artificially-coloured version I made at home.
- Baby-corn – 15-20 nos
- Ginger – 1″ long piece; finely chopped
- Garlic – 10-12 pods; finely chopped
- Spring Onion Shoots – 15-20 nos (chopped to 1/2″ pieces)
- Soy-sauce – 1 tbsp
- Chilli sauce – 1-2 tbsps (or as much as you like)
- Oil – 2 tbsps + more for deep-frying
For the coating batter:
- Maida/All-purpose flour – 3/4th cup
- Cornstarch powder – 1/4 cup
- Soy-sauce – 1 tbsp
- Red Chilli powder – 1/2 tsp
- Salt – to taste
- Water – 1 cup or more, to make a thin batter
- Put together the dry ingredients mentioned for the batter. Stir well to ensure everything is mixed in uniformly. Now add 1 cup or more of water to make a thin batter (It shouldn’t be as thick as your pakoda/bajji/fritters batter, but slightly thinner than that. It should just coat the vegetable, not engulf!). Add the soy-sauce, stir well and set aside.
- In the meanwhile, microwave the baby-corns (wholly) for 5-7 minutes on high, till they are near-cooked.
- Take the baby-corns and slit each of them vertically into two, and cut each vertical into half, horizontally. This should give you 4 pieces of 2-3 inches each, from each baby-corn. I chose to cut them this way so they cook sooner. You could even cut rings of the baby-corn and use them. I find that too tedious though. (I hate standing in front of a frying pan, especially during summers. So the more baby-corn pieces there are, the longer I end up spending with the frying pan…not happening!).
- Dip the baby-corn pieces, batch-by-batch in the readied batter, and deep-fry them in batches on a medium flame. Repeat with all the baby-corn pieces. Drain excess oil on a tissue and set aside. (In case the baby-corn pieces get stuck to each other while frying, don’t panic. You could separate them once they cool a little).
- Now, in a wok, heat 2 tbsps oil. Add the finely chopped ginger and garlic. Saute for a min or two.
- Add the spring onions and saute till they wilt a little.
- Now, simmer the flame and add the soy-sauce and chilli sauce. Stir well.
- Immediately add the fried baby-corn pieces and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Once the baby-corn pieces are well coated with the sauces and ginger, garlic and spring onions, remove from flame.
- Garnish with more spring onion shoots if you wish and serve hot as an appetizer, or along with your choice of Chinese entrée.
Tip: While letting the deep-fried baby-corn coat with the sauces and season with the ginger-garlic-spring onion mixture, you could throw in just 1/2 a tsp of sugar (don’t over do the sugar, else it will taste like honeyed fritters!), to get that glazy, caramelized look. It also lends just a hint of sweetness to the Manchurian, which some people might enjoy. So go ahead and try it if you like.