Vegetable tempura

NYT Defends Deep-Fried Food, So Dale Carson Fries Up Some Veggies

Dale Carson

I recently read a great article in The New York Times about the advantages of deep-fried food and how it is actually good for you. Thank you, Creator! 

Well, the writer's argument was based on the notion that high-quality fat is good for you, citing the ancient people of Crete who consume three times as much olive oil as Americans do daily.

Of course, there are certain conditions: enjoy fried food in moderation, use a lighter cooking oil like extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil, and don't eat fried food at the exclusion of plants. Better yet, fry your plants!

I love deep-fried wonderfuls, but I’m mindful of the fact this isn’t something to make or eat everyday. I’ve fried food in many forms over the years, and my family has called it many names. But Tempura seems to stick for vegetables, as opposed to the French fried method used for potatoes or onion rings.

Tempura is actually a light coating of seasoned flour, in which the result is white in color and crispy—not a heavy dough-like item like clam cakes or even donuts.

For several months, my daughter and I attempted to perfect Tempura. We played with the basics: onion, shrimp, carrot, eggplant and squash. But we really had fun with more interesting choices: watercress was suburb, and curley parsley was even better! Red, yellow and orange bell pepper slices made a pretty contrast. Even some sweet potato, broccoli, and jalapeno tasted great. And we fried mushrooms, eggplant, fish chunks…the list goes on. You want to eat fried veggies when they are hot. If you want a dip, try soy sauce, duck sauce or some fresh-squeezed lemon. Add a little salt and pepper for zest.

What we realized is that the oil is the secret to light goodness. Your oil must be new and clean. Old oil gets rancid quickly, and it is not a fun experience when that happens. I use new vegetable or canola oil in a deep-sided cast iron pan. For small  amounts, a cast iron frying pan. For the larger pan, use about two inches of  oil. 

To know when the oil is hot enough (about 350-375 degrees), I put a pinch of water between my fingers, throw it on, and if it spits back, it's ready. The food should sink to the bottom and then pop right back up again. I find it good to keep the item going by pushing it around with a wooden spoon, and you will know when it is ready to remove by its color. I should mention that it is wise to have several (three to four) layers of paper towel on a cookie sheet ready to receive the morsels of goodness, so they can drain properly. This will keep warm for a few minutes, or you can put the cookie sheet in the oven on warm (170 degrees) for a little bit, up to 20 minutes. 

Tempura Batter
1 cup flour     
2 eggs
Enough ice water to make a medium/thin dredge
Salt and pepper
A pinch of cayenne
A pinch of sugar

Dredge your veggies (meaning give them a crispy coating) by putting a few in the hot oil. Do not crowd them. Keep them moving with a wooden spoon and remove after 1-2 minutes with short tongs. Then drain.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.