Batter-Fried Vegetable Bundles

Isobé Maki Tempura

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes about

    40

Appears in

An American Taste of Japan

An American Taste of Japan

By Elizabeth Andoh

Published 1985

  • About

Tempura is one of the earliest, and most glorious, examples of crosscultural cuisine. Batter-fried fish was first introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the seventeenth century. Since that time, the Japanese have altered and perfected their version of the European idea to make what the world now admires as tempura.

I’ve recombined Eastern and Western elements here to create a crisp appetizer. Zucchini is new to the Japanese, and so are American pumpkins, though a squash called kabocha that’s somewhat like our jack-o’-lanterns is native to Japan, an Oriental touch of ginger livens up the dipping sauce.

Ingredients

Dipping Sauce

  • cup dashi (basic sea stock)
  • 1 teaspoon mirin (syrupy rice wine)
  • 1 teaspoon usukuchi shōyu (light soy sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger juice (extracted from freshly grated ginger)
  • 2 small zucchini, about 7 ounces in all
  • 5- to 6-ounce wedge pumpkin, skin and seeds removed
  • ½ sheet yaki-zushi nori (toasted paper-thin seaweed)

Batter

  • cup ice water
  • cup cake (low-gluten) flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • vegetable oil, for deep frying

Method

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees if you’ll be preparing the tempura in your kitchen in many batches and bringing it to the table on one tray.

In a small saucepan, mix the sauce ingredients together and heat through.

Wash the zucchini, then slice off about ½ inch from the stem end of each. Using this stem piece, rub the cut surface in circular motions until a thick white foam appears; rinse it away. This is what the Japanese call aku nuki or “bitterness removal.”

Slice the zucchini into sticks approximately 2–2½ inches long and ¼ inch thick. Cut the pumpkin into sticks of approximately the same length. With scissors, cut the seaweed into about forty strips, each approximately 3 inches long and ¼ inch wide. You can make bundles of each vegetable separately, or combine the two. Each bundle should contain three or four vegetable sticks. Wrap a single band of seaweed around the middle of each bundle of sticks, sealing it with a drop of water and the pressure of your fingertips. These bundles can be made up to 4 hours before frying if stored in the refrigerator on a covered, paper-towel-lined plate. If necessary, just before frying, use 1–2 tablespoons of the flour to toss with the vegetable bundles and dry any surface moisture.

Pour the ice water into a metal bowl, where it will stay chilled longer. Sift all of the remaining flour, baking powder, and salt together in a separate bowl. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the water, stirring to just barely incorporate. Lumps are fine.

Your oil should be at least inches deep. Even though the Japanese prefer to use a flat-bottomed pot for deep frying, I personally find a Chinese wok the best vessel since it requires less oil to attain the same depth. Heat your oil to about 370 degrees. A test drop of batter should sink ever so slightly, rise immediately, and puff, but not color, on the surface of the oil. Dip the vegetable bundles, one at a time, in the batter to coat them lightly. Deep fry for 1–1½ minutes, turning once or twice to ensure even coloration. The batter should be crisp, but barely beige. Fry four or five bundles at a time. Drain the fried vegetables on a paper-lined rack and keep the first batches warm in a 200-degree oven while you finish up.

Keep the sauce warm on a very low flame, or reheat just before serving. Serve the vegetable bundles immediately, arranged around a bowl with warm dipping sauce.