By all means try other vegetables not listed here, or for a shortcut, choose just two or three from the list.  A mild vinegar, such as cider or rice wine, makes a good dipping sauce.

Serves 6 as a main course

  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut in 3/8-inch slices
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut in 3/8-inch diagonal slices
  • small head of broccoli, cut in florets
  • 4½ ounces snow peas or green beans, trimmed
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut in strips
  • 6 small scallions, trimmed, with green tops
  • 1½ pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
  • oil for deep-frying

For the tempura batter:

  • 1⅔ cup flour
  • 1½ cups cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sparkling water, more if needed
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds

1. Mix the tempura batter: Sift the flour, cornstarch and salt into a large bowl and set it over an ice bath.  Slowly whisk in the sparkling water, then stir in the sesame seeds.  Leave the batter for 15 to 30 minutes so the flour starches expand and thicken it slightly.  After standing, it should be the consistency of thin pancake batter.  If it is too thick, stir in more sparkling water.

2. TO FINISH: Heat a ¾-inch layer of oil to 375°F in a large sauté pan or skillet.  Coat and fry the vegetables and shrimp until golden, working in batches. Allow 2 to 3 minutes for shrimp; for vegetables the timing will vary from 3 to 5 minutes depending on the type.  Transfer the cooked shrimp and vegetables to a rack lined with paper towels and keep them warm in a low oven with the door open while you fry the rest.

3. To serve: Pile the fritters loosely on a large platter, or arrange a sampling on individual plates. Be sure not to pile them too closely together or they will steam and lose their crispness.

GETTING AHEAD: Prepare the batter, vegetables and shrimp up to 4 hours in advance, storing them covered in the refrigerator.  Fry everything at the very last moment.

A traditional bath of oil is at least 2 inches deep so that larger ingredients such as fish fillets in batter can float freely. For safety, you need a pan that is purpose-designed for deep fat, and wide enough to take plenty of fritters, with sides high enough to prevent bubbling oil from spilling. Specially-designed deep fat pans are available with a metal basket to make transferring food easy and safe. Electric models with thermostats are common, but avoid those with a lid as the contents will stew rather than fry to be crisp. Less oil is needed for sliced vegetables and other items cut small enough to be generously covered by a ¾-inch layer. Here you can use a sauté pan but the average skillet or frying pan may be too shallow, depending on what is being fried.

A batter coating is suited for delicate foods such as vegetables and small pieces of fish or shellfish that cook quickly. A basic batter is thickened with flour (or another starch) to give body, it should be thin enough to pour and is sometimes bound with eggs. The lighter the batter, the better it is. Sparkling liquids such as beer or mineral water may be included, or whipped egg whites, or a raising agent such as yeast or baking powder. My favorite recipe has potato starch for crispness and is fizzy with Champagne (I use sparkling white wine at half the price).

Champagne Batter: Ideal for tempura of shellfish and vegetables.
Makes 1½ cups batter, enough for tempura for 3.
For batter: Sift ¾ cup flour with an equal amount of cornstarch and 1 teaspoon salt into a bowl. Slowly whisk in 1 cup Champagne or sparkling white wine. Chill the batter 15 to 30 minutes so the flour starches expand and thicken it slightly. After standing, it should be the consistency of thin pancake batter; if too thick, add a little more sparkling wine.

Mushrooms and Cauliflower in Pancake Batter: This quickie of Emma’s uses packaged pancake mix.
Serves 4 to 6.
Trim the stems of 6 ounces button mushrooms, halving them if they are large. Cut the florets from a medium cauliflower, discarding the stem. Florets should be about the same size as mushrooms.  Make pancake batter from a package using 2 cups of the mix according to directions – there should be about 2 cups batter. Heat about 1-inch oil in a sauté or very deep frying pan to 375°F. Dip mushrooms in batter and fry in 1 to 2 batches until browned and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and keep warm while frying the cauliflower. Serve with lemon wedges.

From The Good Cook: 70 Essential Techniques, 250 Step-by-Step Photographs, 350 Recipes by Anne Willan. Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2004.
Photo CREDIT: Alison Harris.