Vegetable Tempura

veg_tempura2.jpg

I’ve never really been good at making tempura, the quintessential Japanese deep fried dish. My mother’s tempura has always been terrific - crispy, light, and not greasy at all. So, taking advantage of her extended vacation here this year, I drilled her properly on how she makes tempura.

Her method does not rely on special tempura flour (cheap in Japan but expensive or hard to get a hold of elsewhere), or other recently touted additions like vodka or other high-alcohol liquor, so anyone should be able to do it. Just follow the key points listed below.

Point no. 1: Use the freshest ingredients you can find

The light tempura batter is meant to enhance the flavors of the vegetables or shrimp or squid and so on that is being fried, not mask it. So the fresher your ingredients are, the better your tempura will be.

Point no. 2: Dry the surface of the ingredients completely

This is a point often missed in other directions for tempura. In order to keep the tempura batter crisp, it’s important to make the surface of the things you’re frying very dry. My mother cuts up her vegetables at least half an hour beforehand, and spreads them out in a single layer on kitchen towels or paper towels and puts them near a sunny window. (Since this article is about vegetable tempura I’ll leave the subject of how to prep shrimp or squid for another time, but squid is actually allowed to dry out for several hours in the refrigerator, and shrimp is patted dry with kitchen or paper towels.)

Point no. 3: Use ice cold water for your batter, and don’t mix it much

The flour in tempura batter is just there to hold the other ingredients together. It should not be allowed to develop gluten, which leads to heavy, doughy batter. Therefore, you should always use ice cold water with ice cubes in it for the batter, and not mix it too much. A few ice cubes and lumps of flour floating in the batter are fine - they won’t stick to the food you’re dipping in the batter anyway.

Point no. 4: Don’t overcrowd your oil

You should keep the frying oil at a constant high temperature. If you put too much in at once, you will lower the temperature, which can make the tempura soggy and oil-logged.

Point no. 5: Don’t make too much at one time

At a tempura-specialist restaurant, your tempura is fried right in front of you and served immediately. They only fry a little bit at a time. That’s the ideal way to do tempura. At home, you could stand at the stove making individual portions for everyone else, but if you don’t want to do that just make a small batch at a time and try to eat it immediately, even if you have to stand up again to fry another batch. (This is why I think tempura is really ideal as an appetizer, rather than a main course, in Western-style meal structures. It’s easier to make appetizer-sized portions and eat it right away.)

Point no. 6: Don’t fuss with the tempura once it’s in the oil

There’s not need to keep flipping over your tempura over and over. This just lowers the surface temperature unnecessarily. Let the hot oil do its work! Just flip over once if needed.

Point no. 7: Drain the oil very well.

If you hold the tempura piece for a few seconds just above the oil, with a bit of the end still in the oil, the oil will drain off a lot better. Then transfer the tempura piece to the draining setup that is explained later. Some people transfer the tempura to a second draining setup (with fresh paper, etc.) to drain off even more oil

With these points in mind, here is my mother’s tempura recipe.

Recipe: Vegetable Tempura

veg_tempura1.jpg

For 2 main dish or 4 appetizer portions

Use whatever seasonal vegetables you have. These are what we had in late June in southern France. See the end for some other vegetable suggestions.

  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 2 small eggplants/aubergines
  • About 9 baby zucchini, or 2 regular sized zucchini
  • 8 green shiso leaves
  • 1 medium carrot
  • A handful of green beans

For the batter:

  • 1 egg
  • A jug of ice water
  • 3 Tbs. cake flour or all-purpose flour (not bread flour)
  • 1 Tbs. corn or potato starch

Oil for frying (My mother prefers rapeseed oil (natane abura 菜種油). You can also use sunflower, corn or peanut oil.)

Cut the sweet potato into rounds with the skin on. Take the blossom end off the eggplants, and slice into wide strips lengthwise. (If you have a fat Western style eggplant, cut into rounds as with the sweet potato.) Leave the baby zucchini whole, just cutting off the blossom ends; cut regular zucchini into wide strips. Leave the shiso leaves whole. Cut the carrot into matchsticks. Leave the green beans whole, just cutting off the tops and tails.

Spread out the cut vegetables into a single layer on kitchen or paper towels, and leave to dry out on the surface for at least half an hour. The uncut baby vegetables and so on should not need to be dried, but should be totally dry on the surface.

Just before you are ready to start frying, mix up the batter. If your egg is a ‘small’ size, use 250 ml of ice water (or 5 times the amount of egg). If you have a ‘large’ egg you’ll need a tad more water. Mix the egg and water together, then add the flours, mixing rapidly with chopsticks or a fork. Do not try to get rid of all lumps, and floating ice cubes are fine - they’ll help to keep the batter cool.

Pour the oil into a suitable container, no more than 1/3th of the way full for safety. A tip here: Use a heavy pot that retains heat well. A cast iron enamelled pot such as Le Creuset is ideal. In Japan, most people deep fry in a wok - a proper wok made of iron is good because it retains heat well. Don’t use a cheap thin pan. For very small amounts you can also use a frying or sauté pan with fairly high sides. (Neither of us owns a dedicated deep fat fryer nor do we want to make the space for one in our kitchens.)

Heat up the oil. You can use a thermometer if you like, in which case you should heat up the oil to about 175°C or 350°F. Otherwise you can see if the oil is hot enough by dropping a bit of batter in the oil. If the batter blobs drop down and them come shooting up to the surface immediately, the oil is hot enough.

Make ready a large plate or tray lined with newspapers covered with kitchen towels, or a draining rack.

Larger pieces or whole vegetables should be dipped in the batter individually; smaller pieces like the matchstick carrots or the green beans are usually fried in little bundles, dipped in the batter and then into the oil with chopsticks. Start with the more delicate vegetables first, such as the shiso leaves, which only take a few seconds. Proceed to the harder vegetables, ending up with things like the sweet potato slices. Don’t overcrowd the oil pot - be patient, and only do 3 to 4 pieces at at time!

The amount of time each thing should be cooked depends on the vegetable. As mentioned, very delicate thin things only need a few seconds, while hard vegetables need a few minutes. You’ll learn how long things need to be fried by experience, but if you’re not sure just take a piece and cut or bite into it.

Drain each piece on the prepared draining plate or try. Don’t stack the pieces on top of each other, or the pieces underneath will just soak up the oil from above!

Serve tempura when it’s piping hot, for maximum crispiness.

How to present tempura

Tempura is often served on a piece of absorbent paper called a kaishi (懐紙), folded attractively. You can use a piece of plain, unprinted paper with absorbent qualities, such as untreated drawing paper (which is what I used in the photo above), plain white paper napkins, and so on. Otherwise, just arrange it attractively on a plate.

What to serve with tempura

For vegetable tempura, my favorite condiment is just some sea salt, sprinkled on. You could add a few drops of lemon juice too, though this isn’t traditional. You can also use tentsuyu, which is just a slightly thinned out version of soba tsuyu or soba dipping sauce (thin out with a bit of dashi stock). Grated daikon radish is often added to tentsuyu.

Leftover tempura

Leftover tempura can be crisped up in a toaster oven or regular oven. Just spread out in a single layer and bake for about 5 to 10 minutes until it’s a slightly darker shade of brown.

Japanese people love soggy-on-purpose tempura too, especially in the form of tendon, which is just tempura on top of rice with some mentsuyu poured over it in its simplest form. Tendon is best made with freshly fried tempura, but you can use leftover tempura too.

What vegetables can you use for tempura?

Basically, anything that is in season can be used. Harder vegetables should be cut thinner or smaller so that they cook faster. Some examples, both traditionally Japanese and not so traditional:

Traditional:

  • Sliced onions
  • Green onions, cut into about 1/2 inch / 1cm pieces (fry in little bundles mixed with matchstick carrots)
  • Green shiso leaves (red shiso is too bitter)
  • Chrysanthemum leaves and shungiku
  • Green beans
  • Snow peas
  • Sweet potatoes (the white or orange kind)
  • Eggplant/aubergine
  • Kabocha squash
  • Shishito peppers (slightly spicy)
  • Burdock (gobo)
  • Carrots
  • Fava beans (soramame)

Not very traditional:

  • Green asparagus - cut into about 2 inch / 4 cm lengths
  • Parsley leaves
  • Sage leaves
  • Thai basil
  • Watercress
  • Arugula (rucola/rocket)
  • Green peas
  • Zucchini
  • Slightly unripe, firm tomatoes (cut into wedges and deseed)
  • Potatoes (cut into rounds or wedges)
  • Sweet peppers (cut into strips)
  • Jalapeño peppers (whole or cut into half and deseeded)
  • Firm banana (cut into chunks) - I’ve never tried plantain but that could work too
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46 comments so far...

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Re: Vegetable Tempura

Thanks for these tips.

I've tried to make them myself, but I missed points 2 & 3...
The result was still good, but not great.

I'll have to try them this weekend :)

Nisses | 8 July, 2009 - 12:48

Re: Vegetable Tempura

my mother used to always tell me, ice ice COLD batter is the key.

anon. | 8 July, 2009 - 17:27

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Wow, this vegetable tempura looks very delicious.

KennyT | 8 July, 2009 - 17:56

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Ah! This makes it look so easy! :D I think I will give this a try tomorrow, I'm out of food to pack in my bentos ^^

vamullen | 8 July, 2009 - 21:23

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Oh, yum. I just ate, but I'm craving some tempura now. I don't think I've ever had tomato prepared this way, but that sounds tasty.

If you're feeling indulgent, and this is definitely not a traditional recipe, one of my favorite foods ever is green asparagus and cream cheese tempura.

ETA: And broccoli! Broccoli tempura is delicious. The top bud-like-bits just sort of melt in your mouth. So good!

kakugori | 8 July, 2009 - 21:48

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Mmmm, your tempura looks delicious!!

I've found that it helps keep the batter light if you fill a rather large bowl with crushed ice, then place a smaller bowl for the batter inside. It's just kind of a home-made insulated mixing bowl :P

Chiyo | 9 July, 2009 - 00:49

Re: Vegetable Tempura

YAY! I've been trying to find a good, detailed tempura recipe (and lamenting the lack of one here) so this is fantastic! Thank you!

Zonodon | 9 July, 2009 - 01:34

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Really love tempura. I will try yours recipe.

Thanks.

White | 9 July, 2009 - 03:27

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Incidentally, in the US "rapeseed oil" (unfortunate name) is usually called canola oil. It comes from the seeds of mature turnips (Latin, rapa).

Dorothy Heydt | 9 July, 2009 - 06:17

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Canola oil doesn't come from turnip seeds. Canola is it's own species of plant that doesn't have a tuber-like root base.


Other than that I can't wait to make some tempura! The best I had was lotus root at a restaurant one time, but I've never had it since.

Kim | 25 May, 2012 - 21:44

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I like your suggestion of using a Le Creuset pot! I have never tried to make tempura before because I lack a deep fryer and have no room for one anyway. Can you reuse the oil if you strained and refrigerated it?

FYI for your North American audience--rapeseed oil is more commonly known as "canola oil" over here. Unfortunately most of it is GMO so best to use the organic kind.

Zsuzsi H. | 9 July, 2009 - 06:51

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Great recipe, Maki, and excellent photography.

Have you ever tried to make a gluten-free batter? I'd be keen to hear about your results, even if it's just "don't do what I've tried, it didn't work..."

Cheers, Rebecca :)

Rebecca | 9 July, 2009 - 08:27

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I am gonna make it this weekend! But my concern is, do I have to pour the oil to the level where the vegetable has to be able to submerge in it? Or just half submerged? So sorry for asking those noob question here..I am cooking for less than 20 times so far in my life...

serenityjun | 9 July, 2009 - 17:47

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I love tempura, my mom will always make it for me when I come home, though I suppose as an American I have too much of a fondness for fried foods. However, my mom always rolled her tempura in panko before frying it, which is actually how I prefer it. I like the extra crunch it gives.

Cara Setsu | 9 July, 2009 - 20:35

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Wow, Thanks for such a comprehensive post. I should be able to master a perfect tempura next time.

Janet @Gourmet Traveller88 | 9 July, 2009 - 22:47

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Yummy! I have two questions: with fava beans, do you know if one should shell the beans and also peel off the thin outer membrane as one does for Italian & French fava bean recipes?

And secondly, could one make a sauce of your Japanese essence thinned out with dashi?

Thanks :-)

mosaica | 10 July, 2009 - 00:38

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Mmmm, looks delicious. One thing puzzles me, though. How much oil is needed for frying? I usually avoid deep fried dishes because I always end up throwing away so much oil.

Luke | 10 July, 2009 - 22:25

Re: Vegetable Tempura

You do need enough oil so that the things you're frying in it can float. That's one reason why I don't do a lot of deep frying myself too - all that oil needed seems rather wasteful! In Japan, most people re-use their frying oil a couple of times. There are oil pots that filter the oil to clean it somewhat (they usually have a metal filter to get out the bits, and a charcoal filter). To me though, re-used oil always tastes like, well, re-used oil...

You can deep-fry small amounts with just a little oil in a frying pan, but that needs a bit of skill. I'll post about it sometime though (maybe on the bento site, since it's a skill that's so useful for bento making.)

maki | 11 July, 2009 - 07:56

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Thanks for the clarification, maki. I'll be looking forward to that new deep-frying post. :)

Luke | 11 July, 2009 - 13:40

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I've been making tempura for many, many years. I've done the ice water... everything. I've even lived and traveled in Japan. But I've NEVER gotten it quite right. However, your detailed description is so wonderful that I can't wait to try it! I hope that my shiso turns out well because it's one of my favorites. Thank you so much Maki!

rdhead1 | 12 July, 2009 - 18:26

Re: Vegetable Tempura

This sounds great - need to try this recipe and actually many others on your site! Added you to my blogroll so I can easily find your site back again :-)

Helen | 20 July, 2009 - 10:02

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Great recipe - thanks for keeping it simple, it's great when people go back to the basics of a good dish.

Valerie | 26 July, 2009 - 21:58

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Nice! I've been looking for something like this for a long time now. :D

w1zar6 | 13 August, 2009 - 22:37

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I found you through the JB site. Love it! Went exploring tonight. Tempura has been on my must master list for a while. I even bought a deep fryer. I have room for it. But still no success. I hope to try your mother's tips, and my garden is overflowing with veggies, so now is the time. I will watch for the shallow deep-fry alternative too. That deep fryer is one scary machine!

Judy | 16 August, 2009 - 06:58

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Thanks for the recipe, Vegetable Tempura is one of my favorite things to make!
I have never tried to make my own batter though, I always buy the prepacked stuff.

Greg P | 10 October, 2009 - 00:08

Re: Vegetable Tempura

they look good. I made some too have a look and tell me what you think :)
http://3hungrytummies.blogspot.com/2009/10/tempura-with-udon_07.html

3hungrytummies | 27 October, 2009 - 23:04

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I am going to come here for all my recipes. You do such a great job of offering not only the recipe but perfect instructions as well as tips, tricks and secrets to making the recipe the best of the best. casino online

Paula Thompson | 19 November, 2009 - 12:44

Another valuable tip

Another tip that I learned from my (Japanese) Mom is to wait for the last minute to add the flour to the batter.

Make sure that you have the vegetables and other ingredients ready, and the oil almost hot (as it can take a while to warm up the oil), before you add the flour to the egg and water.

This will prevent that the flour falls at the bottom of the batter or mixes too much. The batter should be uneven and sticky, adding the flour at the last minute helps keeping it that way

JackyKero | 10 January, 2010 - 00:51

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I was working on my own recipes to translate into Thai, and I saw your section on "Not Very Traditional". I am Thai, but my husband loved some of the suggestions you had when I made them.

I can recommend here in Thailand:

Flowering Pak Choy
Thai Yam Bean มันแกว(มันสำเภา)
Mouse Ear Fungus เห็ด หู หนู
Water Lily Stem สายบัว

Also, that is great advice about ice cold batter, -here it is often hot and my staff always wonder why the tempura won't stick. : )

Nooy | 15 February, 2011 - 22:59

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I must've done it wrong, my batter totally did not stick at all. I dried the veggies, patted with a towel and let air dry, for half an hour. My batter was super cold, I even had ice cubes in it. It all just ran right off when I took the veggies out of it. The tiny bit that stuck came off in the frying. No idea where I failed. :(

Mel | 6 March, 2011 - 15:20

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I had that problem too, so I doubled the amount of flour I used, and that helped.

Hiragana Mama | 25 August, 2011 - 18:29

Re: Vegetable Tempura

i been to japan and oh how much i miss it so my family is leting me do a japanese night if u have any easy ideas pls email me on jstee51 [at] hotmail [dot] com thanks

joshua | 13 April, 2011 - 03:34

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Hi Maki!! Thank you so much for the detailed recipe. We made tempura last week and it was a hit, even with my kids! I blogged about it here: http://wp.me/s19XPp-veggies1
Thanks again!

Hiragana Mama | 25 August, 2011 - 18:28

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I did this and ended up with a batter that was water thin and didn't hold onto the veggies. Even after I added more cornstarch and tried to get the veggies into it, I got more fried veggies lacking any tempura batter sticking on for the classic look.

Pothole | 18 March, 2012 - 00:47

Re: Vegetable Tempura

If the batter does not stick well, try dusting the vegetables lightly with flour before dunking in the batter.

maki | 19 March, 2012 - 23:51

Re: Vegetable Tempura

hi maki,
thanks for a great post. one question.. if you are cooking at home in a wok or a pot, will the oil spray a lot and make a huge mess? if so, are there any way to limit the amount of spitter spatter?

thanks!

tyler

tyler | 18 July, 2012 - 17:17

Re: Vegetable Tempura

It will spray a little but but not much, as long as you stick to vegetables. If you are frying something like squid, the trapped water in the squid may explode and cause a big splatter (and be dangerous if you're in the way). Make sure you never overfill your oil-frying pot or wok though.

maki | 20 July, 2012 - 23:42

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Thank you for posting this recipe. I made this for my two nieces, and they had never had Vegetable Tempura before. My own four kids either hadn't had it or didn't remember (shame on me for not making it more often!) It was a hit and I got to teach my niece some more cooking skills!

Rebecca | 20 July, 2012 - 16:43

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Wow.... I just found your blog, and I am so excited! I love Japanese food and have wonderful memories of eating tempura on a rainy March afternoon in Tokyo with my best friend from high school.

I'm gluten-free, though, and frying always intimidated me. After successfully making gf fried green tomatoes last night, though, I'm ready to tackle tempura.

I'm wondering about the ice cold water. You mentioned something about maybe the ice cold water helps to inhibit the development of gluten in the batter? So, if I'm using a gluten-free flour mix, would I not need the water? Or does the ice cold water help to keep the batter light and crispy?

This is probably something that I'll just have to experiment with and try myself, but I was wondering if you might have any insight.

Thank you so much for the wonderful information on this site!

Laura | 19 August, 2012 - 19:44

Re: Vegetable Tempura

hi
could you please let me know if i can skip or substitute the egg as i am allergic to eggs .
thanx

P | 26 November, 2012 - 09:57

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I tried this recipe today and wasn't altogether satisfied. I'm more than willing to believe I did something wrong, but the batter turned out much too thin. It did not adhere very well to the vegetables even after I tried dusting them with flour. I added additional tablespoonfuls of flour and cornstarch to the batter until I decided "to hell with it!" and stuck with my runny batter, as mouths needed to be fed.

Looking at the pictures above, I can see the coating is meant to be quite thin, more so than I'm used to. I like a bit more crunch (which doesn't necessarily compromise lightness), so I will reduce the amount of water significantly next time to see what happens. I've also heard of preparations that call for drizzling additional batter over the cooking veg to bulk up the crust. Might want to give that a try as well.

vozbox | 1 January, 2013 - 10:04

Re: Vegetable Tempura

How large should the pieces be? A friend was thinking around 4 inches but that seems kind of large to me, I thought tempura needed to be small/thin in order to cook quickly so it wouldn't spend much time in the oil.

Lala | 16 May, 2013 - 01:58

Re: Vegetable Tempura

Your friend is right in this case. About 4 inches long is a good size to aim for.

maki | 16 May, 2013 - 19:07

Re: Vegetable Tempura

This didn't work so well for me. The batter (250 mL of ice water, one small egg, 3 tbs. all-purpose flour & 1 tbs. cornstarch) was almost as runny as water. I mixed only very briefly, but the flour quickly settled at the bottom. It was basically like frying the vegetables without a batter because it didn't adhere at all. Any idea what I did wrong?

Daniel L | 10 December, 2013 - 04:17

Re: Vegetable Tempura

I've noted several people having problems with this recipe. This does result in a very thin, crispy coating on the vegetables, not the thick one that is on tempura that you often see in restaurants, especially outside of Japan. I'll see about posting a thicker-batter tempura recipe soonish.

If you are having trouble with the batter being too thin, try reducing the water (or in other words, adjusting the water-to-flour ratio). Do be sure to always use cold water though.

maki | 10 December, 2013 - 07:10

I have not had Tempura

I have not had Tempura before. I am sure that it is going to taste great because I could see it from the pictures that you have posted. I would love to try the method you have posted to make Tempura. Thanks for such a detailed recipe. Keep posting.

click here | 20 February, 2014 - 13:09

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