Author Notes: Watching my maternal Grandmother make tempura for every special family gathering is a vivid childhood memory of mine. I can almost see her deftly mixing the ice cold batter of water, flour and egg and seamlessly dipping fish, string beans, mushrooms, onions and sweet potatoes into the batter and then into the frying oil. No matter how many times we all watched her, no one knows exactly how she did it. She was one of those cooks who never used a recipe, who almost magically created dish after dish with intuition and love alone. I am taking matters in my own hands - which include finding out just the other day that tempura is NOT actually Japanese – well, not originally at least. Portuguese and Spanish missionaries and traders introduced it to the Japanese during the sixteenth century. With that bit of information and some artistic license, here is my interpretation of red pepper tempura with a Spanish spin. (Tempura purists hang on to your hats!) Notes: Make Smoky Garlic sauce before you prepare your vegetables or make your batter – once you start frying you have to continue until you are finished. I actually made this two ways, and the photo above is from batter that was 1/2 cup chickpea flour 1/2 cup potato starch. It was good, although the buckwheat adds a nuttiness and additional crispy factor that I liked better and what I have listed below. It also adds a little darker color since the flour is darker (unfortunately I did not have my camera on hand to snap a pic of the buckwheat/chickpea version). —gingerroot
Serves 4 as a starter or side
Smoky Garlic Aioli
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon chives, finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
- Sea salt
- In a large bowl, combine minced garlic and a pinch of sea salt. Mash garlic and salt into a paste with a pestle. Add egg yolk, lemon juice and sherry vinegar, whisking until smooth and combined. Slowly add oil, a few drops at a time, whisking thoroughly to emulsify before adding more. Repeat until all oil is added and mixture is thick. Fold in smoked paprika and chives. Transfer to a small jar with a lid and store in refrigerator until tempura is ready to eat. Sauce will keep, refrigerated, for about a week.
Peppers and Batter
- 2 red bell peppers
- sea salt
- Spanish smoked paprika
- Vegetable oil for frying (soybean, corn or canola but not olive oil)
- 1/4 cup chickpea flour
- 1/4 cup buckwheat flour
- 1/2 cup potato starch, plus more for dusting peppers
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup ice cold water
- Ice cubes
- Using a sharp knife, carefully slice off stem end of each pepper. One at a time, place a pepper horizontally on cutting board in front of you. Make an angled cut into the top of the pepper and slowly and carefully cut around core of pepper (knife blade moving away from you, pepper flesh rolling towards you) until you have cut all of the flesh away, leaving the core, seeds and bottom of the pepper to discard. Slice pepper flesh lengthwise into strips. Set aside.
- In a large Dutch oven with a cover pour enough frying oil to reach a depth of about two inches. Turn on stove to medium heat (4 on my electric range) to begin heating oil (if you have a digital frying thermometer, heat to between 320-330 degrees). If you do not have a thermometer (I do not have one) you know oil is ready when a droplet of batter drops to the bottom of the pot and then quickly sizzles back up. If it stays at the bottom, the oil is not hot enough; if it does not fall to the bottom at all and quickly sizzles at the top it is too hot. It will take a few minutes to reach this temperature so there is enough time to make your batter.
- The key to crispy tempura is ice cold batter. Make the batter by nesting a medium sized, preferably metal, bowl in a larger one that has a little ice water in it (smaller bowl will "float" in ice bath). Combine egg and most of ice cold water (about ¾ cup) in medium sized bowl and gently blend using chopsticks. Sift chickpea flour, garbanzo flour and potato starch and add to egg mixture all at once. Stir gently to just combine – you want your batter lumpy. Add more ice cold water if batter is too thick (and difficult to stir). You can also add an ice cube to batter to keep it really cold. Working in batches, dust red pepper strips with potato starch and when oil is ready, use chopsticks or tongs to dip and swirl pieces in batter and place in Dutch oven to fry. Pepper strips should initially fall to the bottom and then sizzle up. Allow to cook for about a minute; when pepper feels crisp when grasped with utensil and sizzle has subsided remove and drain on a paper towel lined platter. Sprinkle hot tempura with a pinch of salt and a dash of smoked paprika. The first piece or two will inevitably be test pieces until you figure out your own rhythm. Do not overcrowd pot and as you continue cooking, occasionally skim surface of oil with a metal slotted spoon to remove cooked bits of batter. Tempura is best enjoyed hot so if you have a waiting crowd, serve with smoky garlic aioli as you go.
- Note on batter: This makes enough batter for more than just the red peppers. When I retested this recipe last night, I also made eggplant, broccoli, green onion, cilantro and Italian parsley tempura. Of these, I really loved and recommend the green onion, parsley and cilantro tempura to go with the red pepper.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Use of Aioli
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Red Pepper Recipe