Auntie May's Mostly Vegetable Tempura
o we were chatting, about food and travel, as we often do, and I asked Auntie May, didn't she feel a bit guilty about all the whizzing back and forth she does between Germany and Asia, what on earth did her carbon footprint look like? And Auntie May said um, and then ah, and then she said yes a bit, but she rides a bicycle most of the time at home and her house is really well insulated, both of which go a little way to offset the air travel. And then she said she'd been reading about methane gases and how they were much worse contributors to global warming than Co2 (methane could be more than 20 times more potent). And a lot of methane comes from cows belching. Stella McCarthy pointed this out recently when she asked people to give up eating beef at least one day a week. Stella's a vegetarian, she never ever eats meat but she has a point: a couple of vegetarian meals a week could help to offset our Co2 sins.
So since she likes vegetables a lot, Auntie May has been going the McCarthy way: not 100% vegetarian, but at least a couple of meat-free days a week.
Together, we decided to figure out a vegetable version of the great fish tempura she had back in that tempura place in Kyoto. That made sense since it's very difficult to get really good fresh fish in Germany while there's plenty of good vegetables on the market.
After a bit of experimenting we decided we liked zucchini, eggplant, mushroom and bell pepper tempura best. Tomato and spring onions were tasty but tended to get a bit mushy. Carrots were okay, but they're not our favorite vegetables. We also liked shrimp (one per person), and we quite liked cod added to the mix on days we felt like more protein.
First, make a couple of dipping sauces
Dipping sauce 1: easy peasy, a mixture of Japanese soy sauce and rice vinegar
Dipping sauce 2: make some stock, using dried Shitake mushrooms, a lump of ginger, onion, a carrot if you like, a teaspoon of mirin, a few drops of sesame oil. Start with about a pint of water, boil gently without a lid for about 30 minutes until you have about half a cupful of liquid left. Strain, then add wasabi paste (from Oriental shops) to taste.
Then cut the vegetables into 2-bite size pieces
Tempura batter: mix 4oz flour, 1 egg, enough very cold water to make a thin batter.
Heat peanut oil in a deep fryer or a wok - we used a wok. Dip vegetables briefly in the batter and deep fry. Don't worry if the vegetables are not completely coated in batter. Only use as many pieces of vegetable at one time as will fit comfortably in your pan or wok; in our case this was 4 pieces. Drain on kitchen paper. Eat. Make more tempura. Eat. Repeat until full.
Warning: tempura must be eaten immediately, straight from the pan. Do not make for a formal dinner party. Do not try to keep warm or to reheat, they turn soggy and sad. It's best to make tempura for just a couple of people. If there are more than 4 people, turn the frying into a communal event with people taking it in turns to cook.