12 May, 2009

Gluten-free Tempura

I'm not quite sure why I have so few Japanese recipes posted. I suppose that when I was in Japan I assumed that most everyone could easily get Japanese food, so I concentrated on recipes that were mainly comfort food from home, or adaptations using Japanese ingredients.

But now, after being away from Japan for just over a year, I definitely miss Japanese food. I got a bit of a fix with a visit to Doraku Restaurant, where my family had an early Mother's day dinner last Friday night. The sushi was still good; the soba still tasty. But even so, there were dishes I couldn't have because they were made with flour. One thing that especially caught my eye and made me a little envious was the bowl of noodles my daughter had that was topped with some tasty looking tempura.

Tempura. As everyone in Japan, and probably many in North America know, tempura is the Japanese name for battered fried tidbits. Some of those tidbits are vegetables, and in fact the tastiest tempura is often made of them. Thinly sliced pumpkin (like our squash), shiso leaves (a herb not often found here but delicious with a tart addictive flavour) and even green pepper are among the stars in any Japanese tempura basket. Tempura is often served as the central dish of a "seto" a prix fixe meal that often includes miso soup, pickles, rice, and tea, maybe even salad or a small desert. It is high in calories because of the oil, but one would never call tempura, properly made, oily. Instead it has a thin crispy coating, while the vegetables inside are soft, flavourful, and even a bit juicy. It is a treat, plain and simple.

And Japanese tempura batter is the soul of simplicity. It is made from three ingredients only - egg yolk, flour, cold water. Dump them in a bowl, stir them up and that's it. Most of the work comes from the slicing and frying. The slicing is not onerous, though, because you don't need to cut that many vegetables unless you are feeding a crowd. You probably need only a few slices of a few kinds of vegetable per person.

Those vegetables can be anything from exotic Japanese to honest as the earth North American roots. For my selections I used what I had in the cupboard and fridge and that was onions, potatoes, carrots, red pepper, parsnips and spinach leaves. Nothing fancy, but the result was more than pleasing. It could have fed company as well as being a lone diner's treat.

It takes a bit of time, but it's a fun project. Nothing is difficult; the most taxing thing is perhaps the amount of oil you will need, enough for 3-4 inches of it in a narrowish saucepan. But you can cool, strain, and reuse the oil a few times. I refrigerate mine to make sure it is fresh.

Hope you will try this the next time you want to make vegetables the star of a special meal. You could guild the lily by serving it with a garlic mayonnaise or a ponzu, soy sauce-vinegar dip, or even, shhhhh, good ketchup. Not Japanese, but still good.

Go ahead and treat yourself!

Gluten-free Tempura

Select about 3 to 5 kinds of vegetables and cut them into oblong or square shapes about 1/4-1/3 inch thick. I used potatoes with the skin left on, red pepper, onions cut in half and separated, carrots and parsnips cut into oblong slices, and spinach leaves.

To make the tempura batter stick the sliced vegetables need to be dredged lightly in flour before dipping into the batter. I used a mixture of half white rice flour and half cornstarch for this and made sure to clean off the excess with my fingers before dipping them. I fried mine in sunflower oil but you could use any mild flavoured vegetable oil that resists smoking. Give the veggies a quick dip in the following batter before frying them.

The Tempura Batter

1 egg yolk
1/2 cup very cold water
1/3 cup of white rice flour
1/6 or more of a cup of cornstarch

Separate the egg and pop the yolk into a small bowl. Beat it up to a froth and then put in the water and mix around a bit (I use a fork for this.) Put in the flours and beat lightly to get out the lumps. Usually you don't mix it too much because the gluten in regular flours will toughen but with gluten-free flours this is not a problem. It should look like a pretty thin crepe batter. Add a bit more flour if you think it needs it but be conservative because this batter is meant to be light and delicate.

Heat the oil to about 230 degrees. A thermometer makes this easier but you will learn to adjust the heat up or down so that the vegetables sizzle and bubble when they go in but don't cook too quickly outside before they are done inside. You can put about 3 or 4 pieces into a medium-sized saucepan at the same time. If you dredge and dip each one in succession they will enter the pot in good time to maintain the temperature of the frying oil. When they seem done remove with a slotted spoon or egg lifter and drain on absorbent paper on a plate, adding a small sprinkling of good salt. To serve them you may want to go the traditional route and put a few choice pieces on a bowl of rice, or serve them piled in a bowl or basket for snacking.

Enjoy them with a dip or let them melt in your mouth totemo solo.


I_am_Tulsa said...

Hello! I can't even remember how I got here, but I have stumbled upon your blog! I am a vegetarian living in Japan and I love your recipes! Will be taking notes often, hope you don't mind...

vegetablej said...

Hi Tulsa:


Take as many notes as you like or print off the recipes. You are originally who I started this blog for, as I was once in the same place. So very glad I can help.

Hope you are enjoying the spring weather, or is it already too hot?


Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
I think this would be a lovely way to enjoy food with my family, particularly the teen ager who is now taking a healthy interest in what he eats due to other aspects of being a teen ager he is taking a healthy interest in!
Tara and I enjoyed a lovely lunch with Pohangina Pete a few weekends ago at his place out in Pohangina. We thought of you. Glad to see the recipes flowing a bit lately and hope you are happy and well. Kia kaha.

I_am_Tulsa said...

It was hot for a couple of days (like 25 to 30 degrees c!) but it got really cool at night and now I think I have a sore throat!
Today it is sunny in my parts (Kansai).
It's supposed to get cool again before the rainy season kicks in (bet you don't miss that)!

vegetablej said...

Hi Robb:

Thanks. I'm doing a bit better now. I have found a part-time job teaching ESL to adults here, so am staying for a few more months!

The cooking urge has resurfaced because we are working hard most days renovating my daughter's house and we're all so hungry. Almost like your teenager. :)

I hope you will enjoy the tempura with your family. It is certainly lighter and healthier than the processed variety of fried food, and I think should be very acceptable to teens, and sneaks in a few more vegetables.

How nice to have a meal with PPete. Thanks for remembering me.


vegetablej said...

Hi I_am_Tulsa:

I certainly DON'T miss the rainy season. I don't have to, with so much rain here lately. :)

I DO miss all the lovely fresh green vegetables, the mikans, and the Japanese eggplant, though. And the bean jam sweets, I really miss them.


Anonymous said...


Staying a few more months?! What?
Not if I can help it.

your not so secret admirer

vegetablej said...

Not So Secret Admirer:

Hmmm. I learned somethng over at Pohangina Pete's this week. It was that problems can have creative solutions that are neither Either or Or. Maybe that will work for us. Fancy a float in lake Erie?


I_am_Tulsa said...

VJ! The rainy season is supposed to be good this year since it will help stop the spread of the new influenza virus! How about that!?

I bought a bundle of eggplants today. I love them too! I am having a hard time deciding what to do with asparagus. It's expensive but I bought a few today because they are in season. I think I will boil and top of with vinegar soy sauce. If you have any asparagus recipes I would love to know about them!

vegetablej said...

Hi Tulsa:

Sorry I didn't get back to you in time for that batch of asparagus. Usually in Japan I got pretty thin ones, so I would usually put a little oil in a pan and toast a clove of garlic, sliced, in it and then braise them in a little water or mikan juice, freshly squeezed. But asparagus are fine just steamed in a bit of water and dolloped with a little butter or oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

I never tried the soy sauce and vinegar, but they seem to be on everything else there, so why not?

The eggplants can be prepared many ways but are excellent in curries or stir fries, chopped, or as I used to get them in a local restaurant there, halved and sauteed in olive oil and garlic, like the aparagus, but then put on top of spaghetti topped with a nice tomato sauce. I have a good recipe for that; look for the picture in the sidebar and click. The key is lots of garlic. Enjoy!

Hope the rainy season will NOT also be 'flu season. Oh the dread!


emar said...

Mmmm... all this food looks delicious! Haha. I am definitely craving Japanese food now. In fact I'll be going there for vacation during the winter... but that seems ages ahead. I guess I'll try out your recipes in the meantime. Nice blog by the way.

vegetablej said...

Thanks, emar. I hope you will try to make something here and let me know how it turns out.

I know you will love the food in Japan. it's great.


Glen Dogs said...

This is the fourth time I have used this recipe for inspiration and tonight it turned out the best yet. I used 3 egg yolks lightly beaten, soda water and Bette's Gourmet rice flour blend (unmeasured, until it looked "right") I dumped flour over a bowl of cut-up cod, shrimp, and scallops, mixed them around, then put 1/2 in the batter bowl (about 1/2 pound). When Canola oil got to 375ºF I dropped the battered pieces one-by-one into oil and fried until oil came back up to about 305ºF and the pieces looked about right. I repeated the same for second batch and we made tacos with slaw with the first batch while the second cooked. I deep fried in a wok. The slaw was pre-chopped green cabbage, mayo, rice wine vinegar, sourcream and "Rooster" sauce. The tacos were out of this world.

jimbo said...

i used this recipe to make kokanee tempur. the fish were on the smaller side, and perfectly suited for this...they turned out amazing!! thankyou

vegetablej said...

Glen Dogs:

I don't think Japanese would ever use soda water, but if it works, why not? I have to say your meal sounds delicious and well-earned after your experimentation. Love the idea of deep frying in a wok, deep but you save some oil over a pot.

Thanks for letting me know about your cooking adventures. I love that stuff!


vegetablej said...


You're most welcome. Glad you had a good munch.


burnicus said...

would a vegan variant of the batter be to just omit the eggs?
or would using an egg substitute work just well?

I myself am an omnivore who practices meatless mondays, but I'm always the lookout for vegan/gluten-free recipe variants to share with friends whenever possible.
any input would be most helpful. .thanks

vegetablej said...

Hi burnicus:

Sorry to take so long to answer. I had some computer problems and was off for awhile. You know I don't think egg replacer would work here but I confess I've never tried it. I usually avoid egg replacer these days because it has corn starch and I'm concerned with GMOs. If anyone else has some insight here, I'd love to hear from them.


burnicus said...

it's quite alright. i went ahead and just omitted the eggs and it turned out pretty well. the color was lighter but the crunch was still there. .which is pretty important IMO. lol

next time if i do have some egg substitute. I'll give it a whirl and let you know.

vegetablej said...

Thanks! Glad it turned out.


Nadine said...

I made it with ENERG Egg Replacer and it turned out great! I looked at the ingredients and there's no cornstarch in it. It has potato starch