The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com.
I can honestly say that I never thought I would make tempura. I am a bit intimidated by the thought of deep frying, and the few times I have done it I have made a HUGE mess. Add to that the fact that home-made Asian food always seemed like it would be... complicated? Well, I am so glad that Lisa challenged us to make this combination! There was no better way to get over my hesitation than to just jump right in. Did I make a mess? Absolutely! I was cleaning up tempura batter and splashed oil for a couple of days. Was it worth it? Yes, yes, yes!!
One thing I did to make this challenge a bit more challenging for myself was to make it for some friends of mine who have spent time in Japan, and who are fans and, may I say, connoisseurs, of Asian food. I was nervous to hear their response to the meal. But sort of proud to have their high-level of knowledge and experience to help me along!
Here's how it went:
Making the soba salad was not complicated. It involved prep work, but no real assembly - everyone built their own to suit their own tastes. The noodles cooked up easily, pretty much like standard pasta. I kind of liked the fact that, once the noodles are done boiling, the directions call for the soba to go into an ice bath. It made the fact that I wanted to make the noodles early in the day a breeze - and freed up my pot for making the tempura! To accompany the noodles, and make them into a salad, I had strips of red pepper, green pepper, scallions, pan fried tofu and scrambled eggs. For the dressing/dipping sauce I had to do some improvisation. The recipes which Lisa provided looked and sounded fabulous, but called for ingredients that I don't keep in the house. So I made up my own using soy sauce, white vinegar, brown sugar, cumin and Chinese five spice powder. (I think that was all...!) Little Girl, my best kitchen helper, did a great job shaking everything up, and with that, it was time to get down to the business of tempura-ing.
For my tempura I chose a variety of vegetables that had looked good to me in the produce store. I used carrots, yellow squash, zucchini and broccoli. I was a bit nervous about the carrots cooking through, even using baby cut carrots, as tempura should only be in the oil for a minute or two so as to keep its light color and texture. So I cut them even thinner...! It was then time to make the batter. The recipe called for regular all purpose flour. No problem, right? Unbelievably, I had actually just run out of AP flour baking up dessert... So I used whole wheat flour. I was sure that there would be some sort of issue with the batter because of the switch. Nope. Not a problem in the slightest. The color was fine, the texture was good, I totally need to start using whole wheat flour more often!! Once mixed, the tempura batter bowl was put into its own ice bath. As I learned from the host and the Daring Cooks who had completed the challenge before me, one of the ways to ensure a crisp crust is to keep the veggies and batter very cold before shocking them in the hot oil. So cold is how I kept things. Other than being time consuming and messy, the frying process was easier than I thought it would be. Into the oil, watch for a minute or two, then onto a cooling rack to drain. My friend, who was keeping me company in the kitchen, commented "Wow, it looks like tempura!" when the first batch came out. (While that might not sound like a compliment, I was thinking the same thing, and her comment made me VERY proud!)
Finally it was time to assemble and eat my very first home-made Japanese (style) meal. When I tell you we all had seconds, I mean all of us - Little Girl included! This was SO good! To the point where my Asian food experts requested the recipe...!
Thank you so much, Lisa, for making me get out of my comfort zone and try a new technique. This is exactly why I joined the Daring Kitchen, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of this challenge! Please do yourself a favor and see the amazing creations assembled by my fellow Daring Cooks!