Eggplant tempura is perfectly crisp outside and tender inside, easy to make, and delicious with a quick homemade dipping sauce!
I think I’ve probably mentioned before that although I try with all my might not to be an impulse shopper, I’m a huge sucker for cutsie foods.
Like Grapples. (Believe it or not Grapples – that is, apples that smell like grapes – are a real thing. But their flavor isn’t nearly as enticing as their scent. We all know that impulse buys are rarely, if ever, worth the money. But even knowing this, impulse buys are still hard to resist thanks to the evil geniuses who design supermarkets, lol.)
And Bento boxes.
Scaled-down desserts, especially ones served in shot glasses. (Come on, how cute are they?)
Or pretty much any “miniature” or “baby-sized” food. (Except baby carrots! For some reason – and I know they’re just regular-sized carrots that have been cut down – they just seem weird. I avoid them like the plague.)
So a while ago when I saw the sweetest little eggplants at the market, there was no way I could pass them up. (And don’t even bother asking me why I’m cool with mini-sized eggplants but baby carrots freak me out. I have no answer to give you and I’m not quite sure I want to know, lol.)
What to do with a pound of teensy-tiny little eggplants? Make tempura. And then eat lunch.
And the best part? Fusion at its finest. Thai, Japanese, or Indian eggplant, Indian flour, Japanese cooking style, and Chinese-inspired dipping sauce. Yes all around.
Eggplant Tempura Recipe
In this section I explain the ingredients and give substitution ideas. For the full recipe (including ingredient amounts), see the recipe card below.
- Besan - also known as chickpea flour, you can find this in Indian grocery stores
- Water - use cold filtered water, sparkling if available
- Salt and black pepper - for seasoning
- Turmeric - mostly for a deep golden color on our tempura coating
- Purple baby eggplant - this is also known as Indian eggplant; you can also use Thai eggplant (check out my post on Thai green curry to see what Thai eggplant looks like) or Japanese eggplant sliced into ½-inch-thick slices
- Ice cubes - to keep the tempura batter cold and thin out a little as you heat up the oil
- Oil - for frying; use any oil that you'd normally use for frying, such as peanut oil or canola oil
Spicy Garlic Dipping Sauce
- Tamari sauce - or soy sauce or coconut aminos
- Water - just a touch to thin out the sauce
- Honey - for sweetness
- Rice vinegar - or apple cider vinegar
- Hot sauce - use your favorite hot sauce here
- Garlic - this really bumps up the flavor; make sure to use fresh garlic here
- Crushed red pepper flakes - use more or less to taste
How to Make Eggplant Tempura
Step 1: Make the Tempura Batter
For the tempura batter, whisk together the chickpea flour, water, salt, black pepper, and turmeric in a medium bowl. Add the eggplant and toss to coat. Add the ice to keep the batter cold and thin it out slightly as you heat up the oil.
Step 2: Fry the Eggplant
Add about 1 ½ to 2 inches of oil to a medium saucepan with deep sides. Bring the oil temperature to 350F over medium-high heat.
Add half of the eggplant, allowing the excess batter to drip off each piece before adding it to the oil. Cook until the eggplant is tender and the batter is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked eggplant to a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil, and cook the remaining eggplant the same way.
Step 3: Make the Sauce
Whisk together all ingredients.
Step 4: Serve
Serve the eggplant hot, with the sauce on the side for dipping.
Eggplant Tempura FAQs
What Type of Eggplant is Best for Tempura?
There are a few different types of eggplant that work well for this recipe.
- Indian eggplant - The baby purple eggplant you see pictured here is Indian eggplant; it's also known as purple baby eggplant. These are small and you can leave them whole when making tempura.
- Thai eggplant - Called “Makeua” in Thai, this type of small, round eggplant can either be green or white. You can see what the green variety looks like in my post on Thai green curry. Depending on how large these are, you can either leave them whole, cut them in half, or cut them in quarters to make tempura.
- Japanese eggplant - This type of eggplant is a rich purple color with a long, thin shape and much fewer seeds than regular Globe eggplant. To prep Japanese eggplant for tempura, you only need to slice it into ½-inch-thick slices.
Do You Need to Salt Eggplant Before Frying?
If you're using Globe eggplant, then yes, definitely salt the eggplant (or soak the eggplant in salt water) before frying. (Note that if you salt eggplant, let the salt sit on the eggplant slices for 20 minutes before rinsing the salt off under running water and gently wringing the slices to remove excess moisture.)
However, if you're using Indian eggplant, Thai eggplant, or Japanese eggplant, there is no need to salt it before frying.
This is because salting eggplant helps draw out excess moisture. And because the excess moisture can be bitter, salting helps reduce eggplant's bitter flavor. However, purple baby eggplants, Thai eggplants, and Japanese eggplants have minimal seeds (and therefore much less bitter flavor) than other eggplant varieties, and so they don't need salting before cooking.
I've also heard it said that salting eggplant helps make sure it absorbs less oil when frying, but I'm not sure if that actually works!
More Appetizers to Try
- Baba Ganoush - this one is a must-try if eggplant is your thing
- Sweet Grilled Peppers - they come out just as delicious cooked in the oven as they do on the grill
- 10-Minute Marinated Mozzarella Balls - it doesn't get any easier!
Eggplant Tempura with Spicy Garlic Dipping Sauce
- For the tempura batter, whisk together the chickpea flour, water, salt, black pepper, and turmeric in a medium bowl. Add the eggplant and toss to coat. Add the ice to keep the batter cold and thin it out slightly as you heat up the oil.
- Add about 1 ½ to 2 inches of oil to a medium saucepan with deep sides. Bring the oil temperature to 350F over medium-high heat.
- Add half of the eggplant, allowing the excess batter to drip off each piece before adding it to the oil. Cook until the eggplant is tender and the batter is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked eggplant to a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil, and cook the remaining eggplant the same way.
- For the sauce, whisk together all ingredients.
- Serve the eggplant hot, with the sauce on the side for dipping.
- Oil for Frying: Use an oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut oil or canola oil.