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Recipe: shrimp and vegetable tempura

I’m trying to make the most of shoulder season – that period between summer season activities and winter season activities. Autumn is glorious, but it can also be a little frustrating with the back and forth between hot weather and snow. It’s far too sketchy for any skiing that won’t result in massive gouges on the bottoms of our skis. Hiking and trail running up high is a bit sloppy with the diurnal melt and freeze. We’re making due with whatever exercise we can get right now, all in the hopes that we won’t be sucking wind when we finally slap those skis on. Plus, Neva doesn’t care WHAT the season is nor WHAT the weather is doing, she just loves to be outside.

squiggly aspens

jeremy and neva after an icy hike up to the lake

My parents are back in Colorado for a couple of weeks to sample a season other than summer. They are not fans of winter and snow, and I’ve warned them that crazy (i.e. snowy) weather can happen any time between October and May, but they took the chance. Luckily, the snow has stayed up here in the mountains. It happened to be Dad’s birthday last week and the plan was to have my folks up to our house for a celebratory dinner. But Dad’s back was acting up and I didn’t want him driving the canyon, so we prepped as much as we could and then brought dinner down to cook at my parents’ place in Boulder. When I entertain, I typically plan the menu and let Jeremy pick the wines to pair. But whenever I cook for my parents, Dad picks the wines he wants to serve and I create the menu around the wines.

happy birthday, dad!

As darkness encroaches on both ends of the day, we find Neva requesting dinner earlier and earlier in the evenings. The orbit of the Earth around the Sun is messing with her internal doggy clock pea-brain. I have no idea how she’s going to deal with Daylight Saving ending in November. It’s a bit of an adjustment for me, too. More so for Jeremy. It seems we also cue on the daylight for dinnertime – eating as late as 10 pm in the summer, which I don’t really like. One of the positives of the winter months is that I feel good about eating dinner at 7 pm and having a few hours after dinner to digest. We also find ourselves dining out less in the darker months. I think that’s partly because we’re getting older and partly because I can cook some meals better at home for less than it costs to go out to eat. Jeremy and I still love to go out for sushi since it’s hard to source that much variety in fresh sushi-grade fish at home, but I have given up on ordering tempura because I find it far easier to make my own using my favorite ingredients for the dish.

kabocha squash, enoki mushrooms, broccolini, lotus root, shrimp

ice water, baking soda, egg, flour, mirin, hondashi, sugar, soy sauce

I used to be afraid of making my own tempura at home. The biggest obstacle was my fear of frying. The next impediment was the clean up. But after finding the right recipes and being able to reproduce the delicate crispness of the fried batter combined with the addictive dipping sauce (I swear I could drink that straight up, but I don’t…), it’s actually quite accessible for the home cook if you can find ingredients like dashi and mirin. Note as of August 30, 2018: I’ve since migrated to a tempura batter that is half all-purpose flour and half potato starch (a half cup of each in this recipe). The batter is runnier when you dip things in it, but the result is a fluffier, lighter, more crisp version of the all flour recipe. If you go gluten-free and use all potato starch or a combination of potato starch and rice flour, I think it’s crazy thin and little harder than I like the crunch to be, but it’s still good.

make the batter: stir the ice water and egg together

add the dry ingredients

make the dipping sauce with dashi, sugar, soy sauce, and mirin

Nothing disappoints me more than getting bell peppers in my vegetable tempura assortment. There is a time and a place for bell peppers, but vegetable tempura is not it. While you’re at it, toss carrots and white button mushrooms into that yawn-inducing tempura category. When I make tempura vegetables at home, I like to get some Asian vegetables into the mix. Lotus root with its nutty, crunchy, and slight starchiness is not only delicious, but it reminds me of a snowflake pattern. Kabocha squash is probably my favorite for the soft, velvety bite and earthy sweetness.

slice the peeled lotus root

soak the slices in water with a dash of vinegar or lemon juice (to prevent browning)

slicing kabocha squash

You can pretty much tempura fry anything, so have fun with it! Mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, beech, crimini, etc.) and green things (kale, asparagus, green beans, okra) are other delectable options we enjoy at home. Scallops, oysters, lobster, clams, crab – it all works. If you tempura fry shrimp, especially to put in a sushi roll, it’s best to skewer it so that it will remain straight during cooking instead of curling up as shrimp do. Just remember to remove the skewers before serving.

get all of the items ready to fry

dip in the batter and then fry until golden

drain on a cooling rack or paper towels

Tempura frying can be a fun and handy way to use up remnant vegetables and seafood on occasion. We don’t do it too often despite having overcome my fear of frying – I still loathe the clean up. That and because no one needs to be eating tons of fried stuff all the time. But it’s a nice appetizer when we decide to do sushi night at home.

crisp golden tempura

don’t forget the tempura dipping sauce

Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura
[print recipe]

lotus root, peeled and sliced to 1/4-inch thickness
shrimp, peeled and butterflied
kabocha squash, cut into 1/2-inch wedges (seeds removed)
enoki or beech mushrooms, bottoms removed

tempura batter
from Sushi Day
1 cup ice water
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup flour (or 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup potato starch for lighter, crispier results)
1/8 tsp baking soda
vegetable oil for frying

tempura dipping sauce
1 cup dashi stock (I use 1/2 tsp hondashi granules and 1 cup hot water)
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar

Make the tempura batter: Combine the ice water and egg in a vessel. In a bowl, whisk the flour, potato starch (if using), and baking soda together. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients (lumps are okay). Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Makes just under 2 cups of batter.

Make the tempura dipping sauce: Place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the tempura: Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large pot until the oil reaches 350°F. Soak the lotus root slices in a bowl of water with a dash of vinegar or lemon juice to prevent discoloration. When ready to cook, pat each slice dry. Skewer the shrimp lengthwise with 6-inch wooden skewers to keep them straight when they cook. Dip the shrimp and vegetables, one at a time, into the tempura batter, completely coating each item. Gently lower the pieces into the hot oil taking care not to overcrowd (work in batches). Fry until the batter is golden, then flip the pieces over until the other side is golden. Remove from oil and let drain on paper towels or a cooling rack. Remove any skewers from the shrimp. Serve hot with the tempura dipping sauce.

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  1. Georgina Thornley says:

    This is a great recipe, we also love tempura at home. I’ve always thought that it most be a very tricky thing to prepare because of the very light batter.
    Last week I saw Kabocha in my local farmers market, now I know what to do with it. :-)
    Thanks for shearing it.

  2. Giselle @ The Busy Spatula says:

    I was just thinking of tempura the other day, and your post makes me want to make it even more. I can’t wait to try your dipping sauce! I’m sure it beats the pants off of regular soy sauce :D

  3. Cathy says:

    Thank you, cooking tempura will be a goal during the winter. Delighted your family is visiting, enjoy every minute together.

  4. Jane M says:

    We cook in ALL THE TIME as my husband is a Type 1 diabetic and eats so careful that it’s very difficult eating out. We never know what’s in the food-salad dressing and all! Good thing I LOVE to cook!

  5. Jill Hyde says:

    Oh these all look delightful! I’ve never heard of lotus root. It’s absolutely beautiful!
    You are an excellent Chinese daughter for schlepping food to your parents, and of course allowing the meal prep to be coordinated with the wine they selected.
    Enjoy shoulder season! xojill

  6. Kristin says:

    I love tempura. You may be enticing me to fry again. I have been thinking about you a lot as we are vacationing in New Zealand right now. Holy cow, the beauty!! Hiked at Abel Tasman yesterday.

  7. jenyu says:

    Georgina – you’re welcome!

    Giselle – oh yes, it tastes a million times better than soy sauce :)

    Cathy – thank you!

    Jane – absolutely! I kinda feel that cooking is a lost art for most of the population.

    Jill – isn’t it pretty? And it has a great texture and delicate nutty flavor.

    Kristin – Ah NZ is one of my favorite places on the planet. The South Island is my favorite, but I hope you get to see the glow worm caves on the North Island! We also hiked the Tongariro Crossing which was AWESOME.

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