I'm not quite sure why I have so few Japanese recipes posted. I suppose that when I was in Japan I assumed that most everyone could easily get Japanese food, so I concentrated on recipes that were mainly comfort food from home, or adaptations using Japanese ingredients.
But now, after being away from Japan for just over a year, I definitely miss Japanese food. I got a bit of a fix with a visit to Doraku Restaurant, where my family had an early Mother's day dinner last Friday night. The sushi was still good; the soba still tasty. But even so, there were dishes I couldn't have because they were made with flour. One thing that especially caught my eye and made me a little envious was the bowl of noodles my daughter had that was topped with some tasty looking tempura.
Tempura. As everyone in Japan, and probably many in North America know, tempura is the Japanese name for battered fried tidbits. Some of those tidbits are vegetables, and in fact the tastiest tempura is often made of them. Thinly sliced pumpkin (like our squash), shiso leaves (a herb not often found here but delicious with a tart addictive flavour) and even green pepper are among the stars in any Japanese tempura basket. Tempura is often served as the central dish of a "seto" a prix fixe meal that often includes miso soup, pickles, rice, and tea, maybe even salad or a small desert. It is high in calories because of the oil, but one would never call tempura, properly made, oily. Instead it has a thin crispy coating, while the vegetables inside are soft, flavourful, and even a bit juicy. It is a treat, plain and simple.
And Japanese tempura batter is the soul of simplicity. It is made from three ingredients only - egg yolk, flour, cold water. Dump them in a bowl, stir them up and that's it. Most of the work comes from the slicing and frying. The slicing is not onerous, though, because you don't need to cut that many vegetables unless you are feeding a crowd. You probably need only a few slices of a few kinds of vegetable per person.
Those vegetables can be anything from exotic Japanese to honest as the earth North American roots. For my selections I used what I had in the cupboard and fridge and that was onions, potatoes, carrots, red pepper, parsnips and spinach leaves. Nothing fancy, but the result was more than pleasing. It could have fed company as well as being a lone diner's treat.
It takes a bit of time, but it's a fun project. Nothing is difficult; the most taxing thing is perhaps the amount of oil you will need, enough for 3-4 inches of it in a narrowish saucepan. But you can cool, strain, and reuse the oil a few times. I refrigerate mine to make sure it is fresh.
Hope you will try this the next time you want to make vegetables the star of a special meal. You could guild the lily by serving it with a garlic mayonnaise or a ponzu, soy sauce-vinegar dip, or even, shhhhh, good ketchup. Not Japanese, but still good.
Go ahead and treat yourself!
Select about 3 to 5 kinds of vegetables and cut them into oblong or square shapes about 1/4-1/3 inch thick. I used potatoes with the skin left on, red pepper, onions cut in half and separated, carrots and parsnips cut into oblong slices, and spinach leaves.
To make the tempura batter stick the sliced vegetables need to be dredged lightly in flour before dipping into the batter. I used a mixture of half white rice flour and half cornstarch for this and made sure to clean off the excess with my fingers before dipping them. I fried mine in sunflower oil but you could use any mild flavoured vegetable oil that resists smoking. Give the veggies a quick dip in the following batter before frying them.
The Tempura Batter
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup very cold water
1/3 cup of white rice flour
1/6 or more of a cup of cornstarch
Separate the egg and pop the yolk into a small bowl. Beat it up to a froth and then put in the water and mix around a bit (I use a fork for this.) Put in the flours and beat lightly to get out the lumps. Usually you don't mix it too much because the gluten in regular flours will toughen but with gluten-free flours this is not a problem. It should look like a pretty thin crepe batter. Add a bit more flour if you think it needs it but be conservative because this batter is meant to be light and delicate.
Heat the oil to about 230 degrees. A thermometer makes this easier but you will learn to adjust the heat up or down so that the vegetables sizzle and bubble when they go in but don't cook too quickly outside before they are done inside. You can put about 3 or 4 pieces into a medium-sized saucepan at the same time. If you dredge and dip each one in succession they will enter the pot in good time to maintain the temperature of the frying oil. When they seem done remove with a slotted spoon or egg lifter and drain on absorbent paper on a plate, adding a small sprinkling of good salt. To serve them you may want to go the traditional route and put a few choice pieces on a bowl of rice, or serve them piled in a bowl or basket for snacking.
Enjoy them with a dip or let them melt in your mouth totemo solo.