Tempura: Out of the frying pan and into … my mouth

Hands down, tempura is my favorite Japanese food. And yes, I cheated below and used a picture from our lunch in Kyoto two weeks ago. My student Mieko and her husband Koichi invited us over for a Father’s Day dinner last Sunday, but we were so enthusiastic about eating the tempura hot out of the fryer that we neglected to take a picture. Besides, our fingers were too greasy. Forgive us. Anyway, Mieko and Koichi are such a great family. From day 1 in Japan they’ve been like our parents away from home. In fact, they are very welcoming to all foreigners. They often host international students in their home, and Koichi loves teaching Japanese.

We ate cook-your-own-tempura in the middle of the table. Mieko made her special tempura batter. She starts with the store-bought tempura mix that is made from a blend of wheat flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Then she mixes it with shochu (a distilled spirit that’s sometimes made from sweet potatoes, but also barley or rice) and egg yolk. Ice water is most commonly used to make the batter, but she loves the flavor from using shochu instead. When the batter was ready, we dipped skewered shrimp, eggplant, onion, and peppers into it and fried them in vegetable oil until they were golden and crunchy. We dipped them in a dish of tempura sauce mixed with fresh grated daikon (white radish). There was also a beautiful plate of sashimi – salmon, tuna, and sea bream – a bowl of sushi rice, and a stack of seaweed squares ready for assembling temaki-sushi (hand-rolled sushi).


1 egg yolk
3/4 cup ice water (or cold shochu)
1 cup tempura flour (or 1/2 cup cornstarch mixed with 1/2 cup flour)
Japanese egg plant, cut into medallions
onions, cut into sections (see picture below)
green bell peppers, cut into pieces or thick strips
vegetable oil for frying

  • Combine the egg yolk, and ice water in a bowl. Add half the tempura flour and whisk together. Add the remaining flour and mix until almost incorporated. A few lumps are okay.
  • Skewer your veggies. Make 3 or 4 slits along the underside of the prawns to prevent them from curling when fried.

  • Heat your oil to 180 C (350 degrees) in a deep fryer or saucepan.

  • Coat the veggies and prawns in batter, and fry for about 3 minutes, turning once. They should be very lightly colored. Remove from the oil and serve immediately with tempura sauce, either store-bought or homemade.

Tempura Sauce

  • Combine 1/2 TBS sugar, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup mirin, and 1 cup dashi soup stock (if difficult to find, substitute with any broth, but the taste won’t be exactly the same) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Pour into dishes and top with freshly grated daikon.

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