TEMPURA is one of the most familiar of all Japanese dishes, both at home and abroad.
This familiar national dish finds its place in the Kyushu section because it was almost certainly invented in Nagasaki-not, however, by the Japanese.
Between 1543 and 1634 Nagasaki was the center of a great community of missionaries and traders from Spain and Portugal.
Like homesick foreigners everywhere, they did their best to cook foods from their home countries, and batter-coated and deep-fried shrimp happened to be a particular favorite throughout southern Europe.
The name tempura (from Latin tempera meaning 'times') recalls the Quattuor Tempora ('The Four Times', or 'Ember Days') feast days on the Roman Catholic calendar when seafood, especially shrimp, were eaten.
When the dish became Japanized, however, its range was extended almost infinitely.
Beef, pork and chicken are almost the only things not prepared as tempura, and these all have separate deep-frying traditions anyway.
Favorite foods for tempura treatment include shrimp, eggplant, snow peas, sweet potato slices, mushrooms of all sorts, carrots, peppers, squid, small whole fish, lotus root, small trefoil leaves and okra (ladies' fingers).
The crucial factor in making good tempura is the batter.
This should be so light and subtly-flavored that it could almost pass as an elaborate seasoning.
There are only three ingredients in it, and all three have an equally important part to play in producing the sort of tempura you want.
Egg yolk is beaten very slightly first, then some ice-water is added.
Finally, finely sifted flour is added.
Reducing the egg amount will make the finished batter coating lighter in color; more egg will make a golden tempura (the former is preferred in Osaka, the latter in Tokyo).
The amount of ice-water determines the relative heaviness or lightness of the batter--for very light, lacy tempura, add more water.
The flour should be barely mixed with the other ingredients--to achieve real lightness, the batter should look lumpy, undermixed and unfinished-looking, and it must always be prepared just before you use it; thoroughly mixed, silky batter that has been allowed to 'set' and settle simply will not produce good tempura.
Preparation: Score the shrimp a few times crosswise on the underside, to prevent them curling-up during deep-frying.
Tap the back of each shrimp with the back-edge of your knife.
Core and remove the seeds from the peppers; trim and slice into strips.
Wash and scrape the carrot; cut into strips about 1 1/2" long and 1/8" wide.
Peel the eggplant, leaving 1/2" strips of the peel intact here and there for decorative effect.
Cut in half lengthwise, then into slices 1/4" thick.
Wash the slices and pat them dry with kitchen towelling.
Peel the sweet potato and slice it crosswise into 1/2" rounds.
Cut the mushrooms in half.
Cut the flattened piece of squid into 1/2" squares.
Cut the onions in half.
Push toothpicks into the onion at 1/2" intervals, in a straight line.
Then slice the onions midway between the toothpicks.
The toothpicks will hold the layers of onion together in each of the sliced section Pour the vegetable oil into a large pot or electric skillet.
The oil should be heated to about 350 degree F.
Make the batter in two batches .
Place one egg yolk into a mixing bowl; add one cup of ice-water and mix with only one or two strokes.
Then add 1 cup of flour, and mix as before, with only a few brief strokes.
Prepare the second batch of batter when the first is used up.
The batter should be lumpy, with some undissolved flour visible.
Check the oil for heat: drop a bit of batter into the oil; if the batter sinks slightly beneath the surface, then comes right back up surrounded by little bubbles, your oil is ready.
Dip each item into flour first this ensures that each ingredient is perfectly dry and that the batter will adhere well.
Then dip in the batter, shake a little to remove any excess batter, and slide into the oil.
Fry each piece for about 3 minutes, or until lightly golden.
In order to maintain the oil temperature, make sure that no more than a third of the surface of the oil is occupied by bubbling pieces of frying food.
Remove the pieces from the oil and drain for a few seconds.
Then transfer to your guests' plates, also lined with attractive absorbent paper.
You may also keep tempura warm in a 250 degree F oven, no longer than about 5 minutes.
To make the dipping sauce: combine the dashi, soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a small saucepan.
Heat until the sugar has dissolved and serve warm, with a little grated daikon and ginger on the side for each guest to combine with the dipping sauce according to taste.
Dip the tempura in the sauce and eat.