My poor mother used to dread leaving us at home when she would go on the rare trip alone with my father. Now, while images of Tom Cruise in Ray-Bans, socks, and a white shirt may go skittering through your minds, the sad truth is we were really boring kids. We cleaned the house, did laundry, and would invariably kill off yet another one of her plants. Despite, or perhaps in response to, living in the frozen Midwest my mom would try to grow succulents and other tropical plants in our house and as long as we didn’t try to be helpful, they survived the hot summers and dry central heating of the winters well. I remember one time when one of my well-meaning sisters thought the tiger lilies looked cold so she poured boiling water over them. (Yes, I’m a terrible person cuz I’m chortling as I type this.) So despite my grey thumb, I gave in to temptation and started a raised vegetable bed last year. The siren song of having my own veggies that are either cost prohibitive or only available through the farmer’s market was too much to resist but enchanted as I was, I still wasn’t deluded enough to think that I could grow muskmelons. Übernerdy me researched out easy to grow veggies that don’t mind a short Pacific NW growing season. And while my pitiful harvest of 7 golden beets each the size of an apricot fulfilled my grey thumb’s predictions, the 20+ lbs of pattypan squash mocking me on my kitchen counter for underestimating their ability to thrive in the face of adversity make me think maybe there’s a hint of green in that grey?
And so when the garden gives you squashtopia, make tempura! What I love about tempura is that it goes well with most veggies and seafood and seriously, while I may live a healthy lifestyle and can quote you the different profiles of the cholesterol lowering drug classes, that doesn’t mean that I’m immune to the allure of fried foods. Who can resist that crispety crunchy shell coupled with steamy luscious innards? Tempura is so popular that not only is it an appetizer but also a meal like ten-don aka tempura-donburi–tempura over rice with a dashi-soy sauce based sauce, tempura udon soup or as the highlight to your bento. As with many dishes this recipe can be vegan simply by omitting the salmon, so keep everything in moderation and enjoy your guilty pleasures every once in a while 🙂
Tip me, tip me, tip me!
1) How do you get a nice crispy shell on tempura? Cold carbonated water, rice flour, make sure your items to be battered are dry or at least not wet to the touch and the right oil temperature. I use carbonated water straight out of the refrigerator and the lack of gluten in rice flour gives you a light crisp crust. Ideally you can try to keep your oil between 340-60F but I don’t like fumbling with a thermometer among everything else I’m juggling so I heat the oil on medium heat and when a drop of batter immediately floats up after being dropped in you’re good to go.
2) Although it’s super tempting, don’t crowd the pan. The more things that get added to the oil at one time, the lower the oil temperature drops. A lower oil temperature will make it so that the tempura takes longer to cook and thereby absorbs more oil leaving it soggy and oily 😦
3) Pretty much anything goes with tempura in terms of what you can batter but if it’s something dense (like yam or carrot) or woody (like broccoli) you’ll need to partially cook it before frying it otherwise the outside will be burnt and the inside crunchy and raw-ish. Ugh.
4) This dish can be made completely gluten-free with rice flour and certain types of tamari soy sauce. Tamari is a Japanese type of soy sauce has a high content of fermented soy liquid giving it a richer flavor and thicker consistency. It literally means “pooled residue” and is the runoff from the fermented soy beans. It is mainly used with sashimi and can contain small amounts of wheat or no wheat. So look carefully at the ingredients label as not all tamari is wheat free.
5) If you’re using western eggplants, I would remove the skin as it’s thicker than the Asian varieties. Read my tips here for help with picking eggplant 🙂
6) One of these days (soon, I promise) once I get more organized I’ll create a glossary of weird ingredients and whatnot, but until then please read the tips here for info on dashi stocks and how to substitute for them.
3 tbsp soy sauce **look for wheat-free tamari if you’re cooking gluten-free
1 c konbu (seaweed kelp) dashi broth or you can substitute mushroom or vegetable broth
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp mirin
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low heat till sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. (I like to triple this and keep it in a sterile swing bottle in the refrigerator where it will keep for 3-4 weeks.)
12 squash blossoms (or however many you can find), stems and squash bulbs removed
5 oz salmon, skin on or removed (cook’s preference!)
1 small Chinese or 2 Japanese eggplants, skin on and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
1 small yam
2 c steamed rice if serving as a main dish (I usually start the rice before I make the dipping sauce so it’s ready when the tempura is done)
Since my blossoms came from the garden I didn’t wash them as they didn’t have visible dirt or debris on them. Using a pair of herb scissors or other small sharp scissors, snip out the stamen and shake out and discard. I find that the blossoms are so narrow and the petals so fragile that they will tear if I stick my hand in to manually remove the stamens. If your blossoms look like they need a spritz, trickle some water over them while holding them in the palm of your hand after you’ve removed the stamens. Blot them dry on paper towels. They will need to be dry before you batter them otherwise the batter won’t stick so do this step a few hours before if you need to wash your blossoms.
Pierce yam 4-5 times with a fork and microwave on 3/4 power for 3 minutes (or use your “potato” setting if you have one :)). Leave skin on and cut yam into 1/2 inch thick rounds.
Season salmon with a small pinch each of salt and freshly ground pepper. Cut into 1 inch cubes.
1 c cold carbonated water
1 c rice flour
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
1/2 tsp sweet paprika, like Hungarian (optional)
3 c vegetable oil
Combine, except vegetable oil, ingredients until just mixed in a large mixing bowl.
In a 9-10 inch cast iron skillet or other heavy wide pan, heat 2 c oil on medium heat till a drop of batter rises to the surface in a second. Dip items in batter making sure to cover all sides. I usually only batter 5-6 things at a time to keep from crowding the skillet. Place in skillet, making sure that they’re not touching. As the oil level drops you will need to add more, just enough to allow your tempura to float ~ 1/2-1 inch deep. Allow the oil 10-5 seconds to heat back up before adding more tempura to be fried.
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer/side dish or 4 as a main dish served with steamed rice.