This mushroom tempura recipe is both vegan and gluten-free. Using whole grain buckwheat and brown rice flours, it is still light and crispy – an elegant vegan appetizer or Japanese vegetarian starter.
I have been growing oyster mushrooms in my living room and harvest time yielded a thrilling glut!
Such a special ingredient called for a special kind of recipe, so I decided to try my hand at tempura. However, being on a (hopefully permanent) whole grain kick, I wanted to adapt the recipe, which is typically made primarily from plain white flour. Buckwheat has been working its way into my diet a lot recently (read all about its health benefits here), so I knew I wanted to at least try and include that. I also knew, however, that the batter would need something else to help it crisp up in the fashion that is so very much required for tempura.
Having had great success with making super-crispy Battered halloumi pakora - one of life's truly great things to put in your mouth - I decided to adapt that recipe. For the halloumi, I used a combination of chickpea (gram) flour, rice flour and cornflour (cornstarch to my US readers), with some lovely Indian seasonings to add that extra flavour boost. The result? Ultra crisp, deliciously flavourful batter that stayed crunchy for ages after frying. Oh, and a meltingly tender, moist halloumi centre. But the less said about that gorgeous, but pretty unhealthy, treat the better.
So for this recipe, which I wanted to be more whole grain, I worked with that formula. Equal volumes of buckwheat flour, brown rice flour and potato starch (as it was all that I had in the cupboard - cornflour would probably be even better).
This flour blend is not only two-thirds whole grain, with all the health benefits associated with that, it is also naturally gluten-free, so tempura is back on the menu for many who have had to turn their back on such delights. Tempura batter often contains an egg, but my recipe was successful without, making this recipe fully accessible to my vegan friends as well. Bonus!
I ground my own flours from whole raw buckwheat groats and brown basmati rice grains, but no doubt using the flours available in your local health food shop would yield even better results (I'm sure a professional machine will grind more finely and evenly than my Thermomix).
The oyster mushrooms were fantastic in this recipe. None of the massively watery centre that often accompanies deep-fried, battered mushrooms - I guess because they are thin and flat, rather than round and dense.
They remained pleasingly chewy, almost meaty, after frying and held their shape beautifully. You can even see the wonderful colour and patterns of the mushrooms etched in the thin batter.
The temperature you fry at is very important for this recipe. When you deep fry at the correct temperature (180c for mushrooms), the water in the main ingredient is turned to steam and forced out very rapidly. When meeting the hot oil this creates a barrier to stop the oil seeping into the food. This means that the oil ends up forming only a very thin coating. If the temperature drops too much, the water will not instantly turn to steam and the oil will start to soak into the food. I think a thermometer is important for this, although there are low-fi techniques to gauging oil temperature if you find yourself without one.
It is also very important that you do not crowd the pan when frying, as this will also cause the temperature to drop. I fried about four large oyster mushrooms at a time in a medium pan filled with a litre of oil.
Interestingly, after frying this batch of tempura and returning the oil to the bottle after it had cooled, there was almost no oil gone from the bottle. Deep-frying need not always be considered a super-unhealthy choice - the Japanese understand this well.
If you don't fancy mushrooms, you can use this gluten-free batter to tempura anything (well almost anything). The temperature of the oil should be adjusted depending on what you are frying - the longer the food needs to cook, the lower the temperature should be. Get an idea of the different temperatures for different kinds of food at Just One Cookbook here.
The tempura definitely needed a spicy, salty dip, so I opted for a mix of wasabi and soy sauce. Nom!
Mushroom tempura with buckwheat
- 3 tablespoons brown rice flour
- 3 tablespoons cornflour or potato starch
- 3 tablespoons buckwheat flour
- 90 g very cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 150 g oyster mushrooms I used pink!
- 1 litre frying oil I used sunflower
- wasabi to serve
- soy sauce to serve
- Start heating the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Lightly whisk the the flours, water and salt together. Prepare a plate with a layer of paper towel for the fried mushrooms.
- Add the wasabi and soy to two dipping dishes.
- When the oil is 180c, start frying the mushrooms. Dip one oyster mushroom in the batter, let the excess drip off and add it gently to the oil, being careful not to let it splash. Repeat with 2 or 3 more mushrooms. If you add much more than this to the pan, the oil temperature will drop and the food will absorb the oil, rather than just crisping the outside. When food is added to oil at the correct temperature, the water in the food turns to steam instantly and the escaping water forms a barrier which stops the oil being absorbed. Fry the mushrooms in batches and drain on the paper towels. Serve immediately.