Red Kuri & Purple Yam Tempura!

Not the best picture, but you get the idea.

So I’ve made the first of (I think) three dishes to incorporate this beautiful red kuri squash that my friend Kathy gave me. I had some Japanese purple yam just laying around (don’t you?), so I thought the color combination of the two vibrant winter vegetables would make a gorgeous and tasty dish. And it did!

First I cut the squash in half and scooped out the seedy, fibrous guts. Then, using a very sharp knife, I cut away the hard outer skin as thinly and as cleanly as I could. I sliced crescents from the flesh about a 1/4 of an inch thick, some a little thinner perhaps.

I peeled and cut the yam into slices about the same thickness as the squash. The yam will oxidize and brown pretty quickly, so I soaked the slices in cold water until I was ready to fry. If you can’t find a purple yam, the best substitute is a white-fleshed sweet potato. They’re quite close in texture and flavor.

In a fryer I heated rice bran oil to a temperature of 335 degrees F. I knocked out a batch of tempura dipping sauce (see below). Next I whipped up a small batch of tempura batter (see below). I find it helps to allow the tempura batter to rest for about fifteen to twenty minutes in the fridge before using.

When the oil was hot, I dried off the yam slices and dredged a few slices of each veggie into the batter. I use small tongs or chopsticks to pick up battered veggies and drop them into the hot oil. The best way to release them is to dip the veggie slice slowly into the oil, holding onto the barest exposed bit with the tongs for about 2 seconds and gently swirling the slice around in the oil before letting go. This creates the fragile, super-crisp edges that mark good tempura; also, it prevents from the fried slice from slipping to the bottom of the fryer basket and gluing itself to the wire mesh.

I fried the red kuri and purple yam slices for about five minutes until most of the bubbling had subsided and the veggies looked crisp and slightly browned, flipping them once during the frying. I garnished them on the plate with a few thinly sliced scallion greens and a shake of togarashi shichimi, a dried ground Japanese chili blend.

The red kuri squash was dynamite! Earthy, sweet, tender, and still slightly firm. Perfectly cooked and delicious, a bit like pumpkin and butternut squash combined. The purple yam was milder and starchier, but beautiful and yummy. Dipped into the classic tempura sauce with grated daikon and sliced scallion greens, it was very satisfying. Regina and Bennet both went wild for it!

A slightly fuzzy cross-section of the Japanese purple yam.

I have a couple of other ideas for the kuri squash. Tomorrow I’ll have another post to share, if all goes well.

Tempura Batter:

There are several easy methods for tempura batter, some with egg, some with different flours, etc. I used a very simple batter for this batch, and it worked out great.
You’ll Need:
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1 cup ice-cold water
Do This:
Add the dry ingredients to a bowl. Add water and swirl into the seasoned flour with a pair of chopsticks. Mix only slightly, keeping it slightly lumpy. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Tempura Dip:
You Need:

1 cup ichiban dashi (see recipe below) from scratch or instant dashi
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
grated daikon, about two tablespoons
1 tablespoon finely sliced green onions

Do This:
Combine dashi, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. Chill sauce in the refrigerator until ready for use.

To grate the daikon, use the small holes on a box grater, or use a specialized daikon & ginger grater, a plastic box available for cheap at any Japanese or Korean market.

Right before service, add daikon and green onions to the sauce.


Ichiban Dashi:

Dashi stock is one of the primary foundations of Japanese cuisine, being a minor or major component in a dizzying array of sauces, broths, stews, and all manner of cooked food. It’s very easy to make, and you can make it in large quantities and freeze some for other applications. This is ichiban dashi, meaning it’s sort of the “first soak” of the kombu and bonito flakes. After you strain the solids out of this batch of dashi you could reuse those steeped kombu and bonito flakes to create a second, weaker broth, called niban dashi.

You Need:
4 quarts cold water
4 squares of kombu, approximately 5″ X 6″
3 cups katsuobushi (bonito flakes)  

Do This:
Wipe off any white residence from the kombu squares with a damp paper towel. Place in a pot with the cold water. Bring it to a boil and add the katsuobushi. Turn off the heat right after adding the bonito flakes. Allow stock to steep for about 6 minutes. Strain dashi slowly through a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth or a thin kitchen towel.


2 thoughts on “Red Kuri & Purple Yam Tempura!

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