Some of my favorite international food memories of childhood are from the Japanese dinner parties that my parents used to throw for their friends. My parents went to visit my aunt and her Japanese husband in Japan in the early 70’s. This short trip into Japanese culture is something they still talk about fondly. When they returned to the U.S., my parents bought some Japanese dishes, lacquered chopsticks, etc. and promptly started experimenting with things like tempura, katsu curry, and ramen soup. My dad would wear his blue and white kimono and fry up the tempura veggies, shrimp and chicken – yum!
So when I was home for the holidays, I borrowed the old Time-Life cookbook that has the exact recipe my dad always used for tempura. There are many variations on tempura batter, but this one works pretty well. Basically, you just make a very liquid light batter, dip the veggies and meat pieces into the batter and deep fry for a few minutes. If your oil is hot (350-375 F) and you drain the pieces on paper towel briefly afterwards – the result is a very lightly battered food that shouldn’t be ultra-oily. Keep it warm in a 250 F oven until it’s all ready, or eat it as you go – either way it’s delicious! Use a store-bought dipping sauce, or use the noodle dipping sauce that I already referred to in my Jan. 12 post “Oodles of Noodles” – tempura and noodle dipping sauces seem to be interchangeable.
1 egg yolk
2 c. ice cold water
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 2/3 c. flour
Whisk together the egg yolk with cold water. Then sift in the baking soda and flour. It will stay somewhat lumpy, and will be very thin, but that’s ok. Use the batter immediately, so don’t mix it up until your veggies and meat are all cut up, and your oil is hot and ready to go (350-375 F). Dip the veggies in the batter and gently place in the hot oil to fry for a few minutes. Turn it around to get browned evenly on all sides. Only cook 5-6 pieces at a time so that the oil doesn’t cool down too much.
After frying the first batch I actually added a little more flour, so in my case it was more like 2 c. flour. But this might depend on your measuring method and the type of flour you use, so start with less. If it’s too thin add more flour, and if it’s too thick add a few drops more cold water. The batter should just make a thin coating on the pieces of veggie or meat, and brown nicely before removing from the oil to drain briefly on a paper towel.
I used zucchini, broccoli, sweet potato (my favorite!), mushrooms, onion, and shrimp. I also used canola oil, but you can also use vegetable or peanut oil.