Who can resist delicious crispy homemade vegetable tempura? When making tempura at home, the goal is a crispy yet airy coating that doesn’t absorb oil when deep-fried. I’ll teach you how to achieve excellent results in this recipe.
Alongside sushi and ramen, tempura is another mandatory menu item for Japanese restaurants. Encased in a crunchy, crispy yet light batter, these perfectly deep-fried seafood, and vegetable are seriously addicting.
After sharing my Shrimp Tempura recipe, I am excited to share today’s recipe on Vegetable Tempura (野菜の天ぷら) since many of you have requested for it. Dipped in batter and deep-fried, each vegetable gets cooked perfectly on the inside, while the natural sweetness and flavor is enhanced. You would enjoy them piping hot with a delicate dipping sauce with grated daikon.
Some of the common vegetables used for Tempura include Japanese sweet potatoes, mushrooms (shiitake or king oyster are delicious), Kabocha squash, bell peppers, lotus roots, and eggplant. When I make vegetable tempura at home, I also like to include shiso leaves as well.
The Key for Perfect Vegetable Tempura
Before I start talking about how to make Tempura, please understand that even for the Japanese, making perfect Tempura is not easy. It requires a lot of skills and practice so don’t be discouraged if your first tempura does not look like ones from restaurants. But how do you get that crispy texture without the food being too oily?
The key for perfect tempura is batter and the temperature of the oil. I created a few steps below to go over the tips for making tempura.
Tips on Making Perfect Vegetable Tempura
Most of Tempura chefs recommend that flour to water ratio should be 1:1. Some recipe requires an egg (or two depending on the amount of flour and water), and some don’t. It’s up to you. When the batter is too thin, the ingredients won’t have much of batter around it and there is no fluffy and crisp texture to it. When the batter is too thick, you feel like you are eating the chewy exterior.
Please remember a few tips about the batter. Always mix the batter using chopsticks for only a few seconds to at most 1 minute, leaving lumps in the mixture on purpose. Overmixing the batter will result in the activation of wheat gluten, which causes the flour mixture to become chewy and dough-like when fried.
The cold batter is absolutely necessary for the unique fluffy and crisp tempura. All the ingredients (water, egg, and flour) must be cold prior to making the batter, and it has to be made RIGHT BEFORE you deep fry and has to be kept cold at all times to avoid activation of wheat gluten.
What Oil To Use for Tempura
The Tempura specialty restaurant uses untoasted sesame oil (clear) or a special blend of oil that is a combination of many kinds of oil. Each restaurant has its own secret recipe and blends that they perfected over the years. At home, you can simply enhance the flavor by adding sesame oil into the vegetable oil.
The temperature has to be between 320-356°F (160°C – 180°C) depending on how long it takes to cook through the ingredients. If it takes a long time to cook, then deep fry at a lower temperature because high temperature will cook the batter too fast and inside won’t be cooked thoroughly. And remember, cold battered ingredients will lower the oil temperature quickly; therefore, if you need to deep fry vegetables at 338°F (170°C), you need to bring the oil to 356-365°F (180-185°C) first.
How to Deep Fry Tempura
If you ask me what’s the most difficult part of making Tempura, I’d say it’s to keep the right temperature at all times while deep frying. It cannot be too high or too low. Most of the time I do not require thermometer, but if you are not used to deep frying, I highly recommend you to get a thermometer to precisely know at what temperature you are deep frying. The right sound of tempura being deep-fried is like a light sound. Like cider just being opened. That kind of light bubbly sound.
In order to maintain the correct temperature, do not overcrowd with ingredients when deep frying. As guidance remember just half of the oil surface should be covered with ingredients. When you put too many ingredients in at once, the oil temperature will drop too quickly.
What if the oil gets too hot? The quick solution to this is to add a bit of extra oil or add more cold battered ingredients. As I said, it is all about temperature control when deep frying.
Lastly, please pick up crumbs in the oil between batches. The burnt crumb will attach to your new tempura if you don’t pick them up, and oil will get darker once the crumbs become burnt and it leaves a bad flavor in the oil.
I hope I didn’t overwhelm you. It’s a simple recipe, et it requires some skills and practice to make perfect Tempura. Good luck!
Other Tempura Recipes
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
- 4 cups neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc) (for deep-frying; untoasted sesame oil is often used; vegetable oil : sesame oil = 10 : 1)
Tempura Batter [egg + water : flour = 1 : 1 by volume (ml)]
- 1 large egg (50 g w/o shell) (cold 1 large egg, 40 ml)
- 200 ml iced water (¾ cup + 4 tsp to be precise)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (plain flour)
To Make Tempura Sauce
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Combine dashi stock, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Then lower the heat and let it simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.
To Prepare Tempura Ingredients
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Slice Japanese sweet potato into thin pieces and soak in water for 15-30 minutes to remove excess starch. Then dry them using paper towels.
- Cut kabocha squash and lotus root into thin slices. Soak lotus root in vinegar water (2 cups water + 1 tsp vinegar).
- Cut King oyster mushroom into thin slices.
- Discard the head of the eggplant first, then cut it in half lengthwise. Then cut the eggplant lengthwise into very thin (⅛ inch, 3 mm) slices leaving the top 1-inch part intact. Gently press down on the eggplants to fan the slices out.
- Once the ingredients are ready, heat 1 ½" (3 cm) of the oil to 356ºF (180ºC) in a deep-fryer or pot. To make the batter, sift the flour into a large bowl.
To Make Tempura Batter
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Sift all-purpose flour.
- Add the egg into very cold water.
- Whisk vigorously and discard the form on the surface.
- As you slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour, mix the batter for about 1 minute with chopsticks in a figure 8 motion. Do not over mix and leave some lumps in the batter to avoid activation of wheat gluten. Keep the batter cold all the time by adding 1-2 ice cubes in the batter or by putting the batter bowl in a larger bowl containing ice water.
- Start deep-frying from the root vegetables as oil temperature needs to be a bit lower than non-root vegetables. If the ingredient is wet, dry them with a paper towel before dredging in the batter. While tempura is being fried, moisture from the ingredients will be evaporated and tempura will become crispy. However, if the ingredients have extra moisture, the tempura will become soggy after being deep-fried.
- For root vegetables, deep-fry at 320°F (160°C) for 3-4 minutes. For vegetables and mushrooms, at 338-356°F (170-180°C) for 1-2 minutes. Do not overcrowd with ingredients. Remember you only put ingredients taking up about half of the oil surface area. When you put too many ingredients, the oil temperature will drop quickly. Make sure to keep the right temperature all the time. For shiso leaves, sprinkle a bit of sifted flour on the back of the leaves and dip only the back of the leaf into the batter, and deep-fry for 15 seconds. For ingredients that are hard to keep the batter on, such as Shrimp Tempura, Kakiage, or shiso, we dust extra flour before dredging the ingredient in the batter. Flour works as glue and the batter tends to stay on the ingredients.
- Transfer tempura to a wired rack or paper towel to remove excess oil.
- Between batches, using a fine-mesh strainer, remove the tempura crumbs, which will burn and turn the oil darker if you leave them in the oil.
- Grate daikon and squeeze water out. Serve tempura immediately with grated daikon. To enjoy, add grated daikon in the tempura dipping sauce for a refreshing taste.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 2 days or in the freezer for a month. To reheat, use the oven or oven toaster to make the tempura crispy again.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on Jan 20, 2013.