In Japanese cooking, tempura is a delicate dish of batter-fried seafood or vegetables. The light and crispy coating on the food gives it a distinguishable and hard-to-resist flavor. Tempura is often served as an appetizer or side dish.
Even though it has a Japanese name and has been enjoyed in that country for centuries, tempura actually has European origins. Food historians say that tempura can be traced back to the influence of Portuguese merchants and missionaries who arrived in Japan in the 16th century.
Almost anything can be added to a tempura batter. However, in this recipe for “Fruit Tomato Tempura” from Takashi Sugimoto and Marcia Iwatate’s Shunju New Japanese Cuisine (Tuttle), a sweet variety of tomato known as a fruit tomato is used. The fruit tomato is a recently developed tomato hybrid that has a reduced water content and a great level of sweetness. The fruit tomato is smaller and firmer than most tomatoes. Overcooking fruit tomatoes will increase their acidity, so they should be deep-fried quickly.
Fruit Tomato Tempura
½ cup ice water
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted and refrigerated
12 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn (plus extra whole to garnish)
4 fruit tomatoes, substitute with small, firm vine-ripened tomatoes
⅓ cup fresh cream
1⅓ ounces hard cheese, such as Gouda
⅓ ounce blue cheese such as Roquefort (use only white part)
4 pinches natural sea salt
- Beat the eggs and ice water in a bowl, then add the flour and torn basil. Stir briefly with thick chopsticks. Do not mix to a smooth batter as tempura batter should always contain lumps of flour.
- Pour vegetable oil in a saucepan until it reaches 6 inches in depth. Heat to 374 F.
- Dip a whole, unpeeled tomato in the batter and deep-fry for 1½ minutes; overcooking the tomato causes it to become acidic. Make sure that you maintain the temperature of the oil at 374 F. Remove the tomato with a slotted spoon and drain on a rack. Repeat with remaining tomatoes.
- Melt the cream and two kinds of cheese in a microwave oven or over low heat. Season with natural sea salt. Spread the cheese cream sauce on a plate, place the fried tomato in the middle and garnish with whole basil leaves.