I love a crunchy, moderately hot tempura very much, but the chances of finding a high-end vegetarian option are pretty limited, as in most cases the batter is used for frying prawns and other sea foods which I am not interested to taste. Why not having my own home-made tempura, then which except the messy mess in the kitchen that requested some extra cleaning powers, was relatively easy to make and delicious on the plate?
Practically, tempura batter works with any kind of vegetables, and fish too. You can also try the same recipe for meat too, with the tempura batter a substitute for the bread crumbs for the schnitzel, for instance. I recommend to serve it with a soy sauce on the side - I used it a sweet version - or add some black sesame seeds for additional decoration - and extra taste too.
Ingredients (used for a batch serving 4)
500 gr. tilapia fish, cut into 6 small pieces. I really love this low fat white fish, which goes to easily with almost any kind of side dish, from fried veggies to potatoes or rice. I bought it fresh from the fish market and didn't need to use any additional lemon juice as in the case of the frozen fish (which I don't fancy at all, the after-frozen taste being one of the reasons)
500 gr. tempura batter mix. I used the Obento made in Korea, with satisfactory results, as it coated the veggies into a velvet covering
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold mineral water. You can use tap water too, but I decided that mineral water interacts much better with the batter. Some recommend also to use instead of water low alcoholic beer, but I would rather test this for some chicken.
7 small white champignons
7 medium-sized okra, halved and with the ends cut out
1 medium-sized onion, sliced into rings
1 medium-sized purple sweet potato, sliced into rounds. I only cut the ends out, without peeling it. It is very easy going in the pan,
750 ml. cooking oil. Sesame oil can be also used, but the smell and consistency are too heavy for my taste.
100 gr. sweet soy sauce for the dressing
Additionally, you need also a couple of kitchen napkins to be used for absorbing the extra oil from the fried veggies and fish.
Other veggies which might suit a tempura batter for me as well are: any kind of potatoes, bell, red or yellow pepper, olives, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin. In Japan almost all the veggies can be used, such as salad or cabbage but I am not a big fun of such combinations. For the hipsters among you, kale can also be used.
15 minutes before you are ready with the fish and vegetables, warm the oil at 250C. Many (normal) people use some special thermometers to check when the right temperature is reached, but I am not yet one of them.
Prepare the tempura: add the batter, the water and the salt and mix well into the water until you have a compact paste. Add the veggies, one by one, into the batter and coat them by turn each piece on all sides until completely covered up. You can use the same batter for all the ingredients, or separate it into different portions for each of the veggies. However, you may use the oil for frying all the ingredients, it does not make too much sense to take this precaution as in the end, the same taste will be shared anyway.
After each batch of veggies I've clean the oil from the burned rests. At the beginning I only used 500 ml. oil and as the liquid diminished during frying to add more until it reached a satisfactory level for properly soaking the pieces of veggies or the fish.
I tried to have in the frying pan maximum 5 pieces at the same time, as the heat is equally distributed among them and the more there are the slower the frying process.
The main problem is that when the oil is too hot, you are not sure that the veggies - or the fish - are properly fried, therefore, for the potatoes and the fish once the coating was done, I left them in the oven at 250C for another couple of minutes.
As the batter tastes neutral in taste, I am also thinking to use it for baking bananas or pineapple, which might help me to reproduce some Asian desserts I love.
Preparation time (including the time spent waiting for the oil to drain): 40 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Cleaning time for all the (many) tools used: 20 minutes
My first try was for the win, and most probably would keep experiencing and sharing with my readers my latest adventures in the world of tempura.