In late summer, the purple-yellow buds of hardy Japanese ginger appear at soil level and can be hidden from all but the knowledgeable forager. Harvest them when still tight and prepare right away. The zesty, gingery buds can be pickled or shredded on salads, but tempura makes a meal an occasion.
When fried, mioga buds are similar in texture to onion, but have a gentle, ginger flavor that is irresistible. They resemble little purple lobster claws on the plate, and there are never enough for a hungry crew.
Therefore, supplement them with some of your favorite summer veg such as sweet potato, carrot, pepper and green bean. Broccoli is usually out of season at this point, but I love it so much in tempura I’m not above buying a crown or two at the market.
The tempura ingredients should be cold, and there’s usually at least one ice cube melting away in the batter as I dip and fry. As for the dipping sauce, this is my mother’s, overflowing with fresh ginger and garlic (usually from the garden).
Uncooked, it can also be used for marinating all types of meat (one of the fondest tastes of my childhood).
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup dry sherry or mirin
3 garlic cloves, pressed
2 Tbsp. freshly grated culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale)
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. dashi flakes
½ pound Japanese ginger buds (Zingiber mioga)
½ pound other garden vegetables such as squash, peppers, sweet potatoes, or beans
Oil for frying
2 cups flour
2 cups ice water
2 Tbsp. powdered egg replacer or 2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
Put sherry or mirin in a heavy bottomed pan and heat gently. Add soy, sugar, dashi, and garlic, and bring to a boil. Immediately take the pan off the heat and add the grated ginger.
Wash the mioga buds and pat dry. Cut in half, lengthwise. Prepare other vegetables into slices or pieces that require no more than one or two bites so your guests are able to retain some measure of dignity while eating. Heat frying oil to 375° in a large wok or deep fat fryer. While the oil is heating, put the dry tempura ingredients in a bowl and add ice water, mixing gently with a fork.
Coat the mioga and other veggies with the batter and fry in batches until golden brown, turning once. Drain on paper towels, and serve on a warm platter with dipping sauce.
This is the type of meal that you serve while standing at the stove, making more, as the hoards descend. It very often never gets to the table. Consider it an appetizer activity and involve your guests in assembly line preparation to make the whole thing an event!
Serves 6, as an appetizer.