Serves 4 as a side or starter.
The chilli oil needs cooling time and improves with standing. It can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge.
- Start by making the chilli oil. In a small saucepan, bring the oil and grated ginger to 170°C (325°F). This takes about 10 minutes over low heat; the oil will be shimmering but not smoking.
- In a large heatproof bowl, mix together the peppercorns, chilli flakes, fried shallots, garlic, spring onion, star anise, five-spice, sesame oil, sesame seeds and tomato paste. Set a fine-meshed sieve over the top. Being careful of spitting, pour the hot oil over the lot. Add the soy sauce and vinegar to taste, then leave to infuse. Once cool, pull out the star anise. The longer the oil stands, the more intense the heat and flavour will be. Store in the fridge, in a clean sealed jar.
- When ready to cook, prepare the tempura batter. Find two bowls that can nestle into each other. Pop a few ice cubes into the bottom bowl and pour in just enough cold tap water so that it won’t overflow with the other bowl on top. Combine the cornflour, flour and salt flakes in the top bowl. Pour in your cold fizzy water in a steady stream, stirring with a fork or whisk to get rid of any lumps. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.
- While the batter is resting, heat the frying oil to 180°C (350°F) — you don’t need a thermometer, just drop in a small speck of batter and if it immediately curls into a ball and turns golden, you’re all set.
- Set up a plate or tray lined with paper towel as a draining station. Add the plain flour to a bowl as your dusting station. Working in batches, pop the brassicas into the flour, then the batter and pull them out, allowing any excess batter to drip off, before submerging in the oil for 2–3 minutes, or until golden. Drain each batch on paper towel.
- Crush the salt flakes with the five-spice using a mortar and pestle, or crush the flakes between your fingertips and toss through the five-spice to combine.
- Sprinkle the hot battered tempura with the salty spice sprinkle and serve immediately, with the chilli oil for drizzling, and the lemon cheeks for squeezing over.
• If caulini and broccolini aren’t available, slice a head of regular cauli or broccoli into fork-sized bits, stem included.
• If you don’t have cornflour, just use straight-up plain (all-purpose) flour (or its gluten-free equivalent), though I do enjoy the lightness and golden colour that cornflour brings.
• To go gluten-free, use gluten-free cornflour, and swap the plain flour for gluten-free plain flour.
Some varieties of chilli flakes are sweeter and milder than others. Look for terms like ‘mild’ or ‘hot’ on the packet, although they’re not always expressly labelled.
Image and recipe from The Joy of Better Cooking by Alice Zaslavsky, photography by Ben Dearnley Murdoch Books RRP $49.99). Learn more at www.thejoyofbettercooking.com