I am labeling these post-cooking reviews as “Lessons Learned”, after a sweet gift my cousin Katherine gave my husband when I started my cooking classes. She gave him two of these personalized containers so he could take my cooking school homework to work for lunch.
As planned, I made Vegetable Tempura on Friday night for my family. I used watercress (as we had been taught in class), and also a few other veggies including kale, green beans, fresh garbanzo beans, sweet potatoes, and purple yams. I started by getting everything washed, throughly dried, and cut into uniform pieces. I got the oil ready, and brought it up to a temperature of 350 degrees. I ended up using Grapeseed Oil, which is an oil with a high smoke point. I made sure to have a landing place available (in this case a paper towel-lined baking sheet).
For the batter I used: 3 cups All-Purpose Flour 3 tsps. baking powder (one tsp. per cup of flour) a few big pinches of salt 2-3 12oz. bottles Landshark Lager Beer I started by placing my batter bowl over another bowl filled with ice to keep the batter cool. Next I added my dry ingredients to the batter bowl, and tossed them with a few ice cubes. I slowly whisked in the beer, bit by bit, until I achieved a batter slightly thinner than a pancake batter consistency. For me, this took a little more than 2 bottles of beer. At first it seemed really clumpy, but I think that was because I under-estimated the amount of liquid I was going to need. Once I got more liberal with the liquid, things got a little easier. That being said, you can always add more liquid, but you can’t take it back, so be cautious. I whisked it just long enough to get a mostly even consistency, not wanting to over-work the batter.
Once the batter had rested, I gave it one last stir. I used tongs to dip the watercress (small bunches at a time) into the batter and pull it back out, letting the excess batter drip back into the bowl. I then carefully dropped the watercress into the hot oil. I let it fry for a minute or two, before turning the clumps of battered watercress with a seperate pair of tongs. Once it had gotten a light golden color on both sides, I removed the watercress from the oil with the tongs, letting as much excess oil as possible drip back into the pot.
Once on the paper towel-lined baking sheet, I immediately gave the pieces an additional sprinkling with sea salt while still hot. I did notice that with the size pot I was using, the temperature of the oil would fall slightly each time I did another batch, so I started waiting a couple minutes between batches to let the oil come back up to the optimum temperature (350 degrees). Once the watercress had cooled slightly, I transfered it to the serving dish.
For the dipping sauce, I combined soy sauce, dijon mustard, red curry paste, chopped ginger, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, and some chopped scallions. The result…the family loved it! The watercress was most popular, followed by the kale, and then sweet potatoes. It was light, crisp, salty, and delicious! For the kale, I did remove the tougher rib from the leaves of kale, and in retrospect, I could have probably also cut the leaves in half vertically to make them easier to transfer from the batter to the oil. The kale did cause the oil to sputter and pop quite a bit when I added it. I think that may have been because the ice cubes I was using to keep my batter cold had started to melt a little, and introduced some water to the hot oil. Just be careful if you have little ones hanging around the stove when you are frying, and make sure to keep everything as dry as possible. This was a fun appetizer and not too difficult if you do the prep beforehand. It is definitely best eaten hot and fresh. Next time, I think I will experiment with other leafy greens such as spinach and mustard greens, and maybe some mushrooms.