Vegetable Tempura Recipe
Lightly coated in batter and deep fried, vegetable tempura is tender and flavorful, but with a distinctive crispy crust. Along with sushi, tempura is among the most easily recognized dishes in Japanese cuisine, but one might be surprised to learn its origins lie elsewhere.
In the late 16th century, Portuguese missionaries arrived in Japan, bringing with them a popular method for cooking seafood and vegetables in hot oil. The technique became very popular with the Japanese and became known as tempura when references to “Tempora,” a Latin term referring to times when Catholics refrain from eating meat, were mistaken by the Japanese adopters as the name of the new food. Over time, the cooking style and serving practices evolved to reflect an emphasis on fresh, natural flavors and tempura became an inextricable part of Japanese culture.
Unlike many deep-fried foods, the batter used for tempura is intended to be light and delicate, absorbing less oil and allowing the flavors of the vegetables (or seafood) within to shine. No bread crumbs are used and the batter ingredients are surprisingly few. Water, egg and flour are all it takes to prepare an ideal batter, but the batter must be handled carefully to achieve the delicate quality that makes tempura so good.
When making tempura, use cold ingredients and prepare batter immediately before use. Cold batter will soak up less oil in the cooking process and help to achieve the light and crispy texture associated with the dish. Work quickly and stir in flour only until wet. Many choose to stir using a chopstick to avoid over-blending. When it comes to good tempura, less is more.
Also key to successful tempura is oil temperature. Tempura cooked too hot or too cold will result in a soggy crust or undercooked vegetables. Monitor heat carefully and “reset” the temperature between batches.
If your exposure to deep-fried foods has been limited to state fairs or fast food restaurants, the thought of dropping lovingly grown garden-fresh veggies into a vat of boiling oil may seem like an unworthy fate, but tempura may change your mind. You may be surprised to find just how nuanced the flavors in vegetables can be when you use this centuries old cooking method.
- Canola oil, for deep frying
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 cold egg
- 1 cup flour
- 4 cups raw vegetable pieces (sweet potato, squash, onion, broccoli, green beans, eggplant, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc.) cut into uniform pieces and patted dry.
- Salt for seasoning
In a heavy saucepan or deep fryer, pour canola to a depth of about 3 inches and heat to 350 degrees.
Whisk cold water and egg together in a bowl.
Add flour to bowl and stir just to combine. Batter should be lumpy.
Dip vegetables in batter to coat and place in oil in small batches. No more than half of the surface of the oil should be covered by vegetables to ensure even cooking.
Cook 2-3 minutes, then transfer to wire rack or paper towels to drain.
Allow oil to return to 350 degrees between batches and remove crumbs from oil before adding more vegetables.
Salt to taste and serve with soy or tempura sauce.