The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

tempura vegetables with sweet chilli dipping sauce

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This week is national vegetarian week.

It’s an incentive for non-vegetarians to give up meat for a week.

A vegetarian diet tends to be naturally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than meat-based diets, and on average vegetarians generally enjoy better health and longer life expectancy than their meat-eating counterparts.

Vegetarianism is also a more efficient way to consume the Earth’s increasingly precious food resources. Currently 83% of farmland and 40% of the world’s grain crops are used simply to feed livestock. It is an incredibly inefficient and wasteful way to feed ourselves.

And of course, we do not need to eat meat. It is a choice. A vegetarian or vegan diet is a way of respecting the animals which share this wonderful planet with us. As the ancient Greek historian and philosopher, Plutarch, once wrote, “but for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy”.

If you normally eat meat, why not try some vegetarian meals this week? You may be pleasantly surprised by the rich variety of flavours and textures which vegetarian cuisine can offer, often far more interesting, delicious and imaginative than non-vegetarian fare.

These vegan tempura make a light and tasty starter or accompaniment, served with the home made sweet chilli dipping sauce (so superior to the shop-bought equivalent).

You can vary the vegetables depending on your preferences and on what is in season.

tempura vegetables with sweet chilli dipping sauce


8 asparagus heads
8 spring onions
50 g samphire, washed and drained on kitchen paper

for the tempura batter

80 g cornflour
120 g rice flour
pinch baking powder
pinch sea salt
250 ml sparkling water or lager

for the sweet chilli dipping sauce

2 red chillies, seeds in, finely chopped (remove seeds if you prefer a milder sauce)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp sea salt
40 g coconut sugar
75 ml mirin (rice vinegar)
juice of ½ lime
50 ml maple syrup


1. For the sweet chilli dipping sauce, place the chillies, garlic and sea salt in a food processor or blender and process into a paste. Pour the mirin and maple syrup into a saucepan with 50 ml fresh water and place over a medium heat. Stir in the chilli and garlic paste. Increase the heat to high and bring to the boil. Boil vigorously for a minute then reduce the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes to reduce the sauce, stirring every so often, then remove from the heat, stir in the lime juice and set aside to cool.

2. Next, make the tempura batter by whisking together the cornflour, rice flour, baking powder, salt and sparkling water or lager until you have a thin batter.

3. Remove the woody stems from the asparagus by bending the asparagus spear near its base until it snaps. The lower portion is the woody stem and should be placed in your compost recycling. Trim the ends of the spring onions.

4. Pour groundnut oil into a wok or deep-sided pan to a depth of 5cm. Place over a high heat. Dredge the vegetables through the tempura batter, ensuring they are completely coated. The samphire can be coated with the batter in small clumps. As soon as the oil is hot, carefully drop the battered vegetables into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, turning to cook on all sides, until the batter is a light golden colour and crisp. You will need to do this in batches to avoid crowding the pan, which would cause the oil temperature to drop. Remove the cooked tempura from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain briefly on kitchen paper. Serve while still hot, accompanied by the sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian


11 replies

  1. Delicious! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. 💕 looks so inviting! Great share

  3. Great recipe – also live the food photography

  4. This looks SO beautiful! Haven’t made a tempura dish for ages tho’ am an old Japan-hand . . .and have to see how quickly I can access samphire which I love. I’ll be a meat-eater to the end of my life but, balancing my meals quite naturally, meatless days seem to ‘appear’ sans hardship once or twice a week. Eating nose-to-tail actual beef, come to think of it, has only been on the one menu this past fortnight . . .

    • Thank you, Eha, for your kind comments. For me a diet without meat is certainly no hardship. Rather than meaning I was missing something from my plate, vegetarianism actually involved gaining something far beyond it. Steve x

  5. May I ask what is samphire? I’ve never heard of it.

    • Hi Kristina. Samphire is a small, succulent and highly nutritious plant, with a slightly salty taste and a crisp texture. It often grows in marshy areas near the coast. If you cannot source samphire simply substitute other vegetables, for example courgette cut into thin strips. Steve

  6. Samphire is hard to find here, but the rest is easy. Look forward to trying this.

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