There are few greater joys in life than a few pieces of perfectly fried tempura-battered vegetables. Eating fried vegetables is an oxymoron — sort of like committing a healthy sin. They're not difficult to make at home and can be the perfect way to have the family gather round for some serious fun and conversation. Plus it's a great way to clean out the fridge!
What You Need
Vegetables of your choice
6 cups rice flour
1 quart chilled club soda
Peanut oil (or canola)
1 tablespoon annato (optional)
1 tablespoon chili powder (optional)
Electric deep fryer OR large cast iron pan with lid
Small flat whisk
Medium mixing bowl
1. Prepare Vegetables
You can tempura fry just about any vegetable you have in the kitchen. In this case we used mushrooms (halved), onions (peeled and sliced), sweet potato (peeled and sliced into rounds), and broccoli florets (from the freezer, no preparation required!).
Other suggestions might include: Bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, green beans, snap peas, cauliflower, baby corn.
2. Heat Your Oil
Bring the oil in your deep fryer or Dutch oven/cast iron pot to 360°F. Some electric fryers only allow you to increase the temperature in specific increments, so if that's the case, go for less temperature and longer frying time for root vegetables and a higher time for things like broccoli that won't require as long of cooking.
3. Prepare the Batter
In a medium to large size mixing bowl, add the rice flour and seasonings (if you wish). Next add the club soda, ensuring that it is cold before mixing. You're looking for the consistency of pancake batter. It should be loose enough to coat things easily, but not drip off completely on the way to the fryer. If the batter is too thick, add club soda or ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture loosens. If too thin, add rice flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Bubbles are good, lumps are bad, make sure to mix thoroughly!
4. Coat the Vegetables
Most vegetables can be tossed in the batter bowl ahead of time and allowed to sink a little to coat each one. It's far easier than hand dipping, which means of course that you have one batter covered hand the entire time (not always awesome). Toss items in and help them sink or roll to be coated with the batter. A flat whisk works wonders for this.
5. Fry the Vegetables
Next, lift vegetables out of the batter with your whisk (a fish spatula or large slotted spoon can also work out with success) and allow them to drain slightly, scraping the back of your whisk on the side of the bowl to remove excess. Drop vegetable pieces into the oil one at a time, ensuring that they don't touch. Most everything will immediately sink to the bottom (although mushrooms float). Use a spider strainer or long handled utensil (like a metal skewer) to loosen them and keep them moving. This will allow them to cook evenly on all sides. Cook root vegetables for 4 minutes and all others for 3 This time might differ if your oil is at a different temperature.
6. Remove From Oil
Remove your freshly fried pieces from the oil with a spider or the basket the unit comes with (though truth be told, we like to use the spider no matter what we're cooking in). Place them on a few layers of paper towels to allow remaining oil to drain. Give them a light sprinkling of salt and allow to cool slightly.
7. Return Oil to Temperature
Before dropping in your next load of veggies, make sure your oil comes back up to temperature. If it doesn't, things can get a little soggy and although they'll still be tasty once removed from the fryer, they will be a little greasy instead of crispy and chewy.
Continue repeating steps 4 through 7 above until all of your vegetables have been coated, fried and hopefully enjoyed! This is a great way to entertain — simply tell people you'll provide the oil and ask them to bring a few of their favorite vegetables and gather round the table! Fry, nibble and chat away and let the good times roll!
• On Club Soda: Try tossing your club soda into the freezer while your oil heats up. It will be enough time for things to chill without freezing, allowing you to have perfect tempura pieces coming out of your fryer for longer! The colder the batter, the crispier your crust and less soggy your veggies will be!
• On Seasoning: This batter can be made without any seasoning at all, but we find that rice flour can be a little... well... too white. We love adding the annato to give things a golden brown color and a little salt and pepper never hurt anyone. Try adding things like freshly chopped herbs, even a little pesto. The sky is the limit as long as it's light enough to be suspended in the batter without sinking to the bottom of the bowl (which means it will sink to the bottom of your fryer during cooking).
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(Images: Sarah Rae Trover)