In warm weather, I use musk mustard as a salad green or a filling for dainty finger sandwiches. (There’s something magical about the muted bite of musk mustard combined with creamy butter and soft, white bread.) But winter musk mustard is a completely different animal, and as such, it requires a different approach.
Until recently, I didn’t realize musk mustard could be evergreen, because Santa Fe is usually blanketed by snow this time of year. But it’s been a dry winter, and I noticed the gravel at the side of my yard, covered with tight little rosettes of musk mustard. Yes, I’d like to go skiing, but this was a pleasant consolation prize.
When I popped the rosettes out of the ground (leaving plenty behind to bloom and set seed later this year), I noticed that almost immediately they curled up and under, forming little balls of mustard foliage. They reminded me of sea urchin shells. As soon as I saw the shape of the greens, my view of musk mustard changed. It was no longer a leafy salad green, it was a whole vegetable. And I can’t tell you why (because I’m generally not a fried food person), but my first thought was TEMPURA.
Nope. I’d never made tempura before in my life. But I had this gut reaction to the shape of the vegetable. It must be battered and deep fried.
For those of you who (like me) have never tempura-ed before, there are two traditional types of tempura batter. One is egg-yolk based, and the other is a simple combination of finely ground flour and sparkling water. I opted for the second because it sounded lighter and more appealing. Again, I was following my gut.
My first attempt was less than perfect, but good enough to let me know I was on the right track. The batter was too thin and didn’t cover the leaves well, so I tried a thicker batter. It was an improvement, but the liquid still slid off the ends of the leaves. I tried a pre-batter dip in plain old rice flour, but that did nothing to improve how the batter clung to the foliage.
Michael agreed the flavor at the center of the veg was great: just the right balance of greens and deep fried batter. That was the key. For my next attempt, I trimmed the leaves, removing about two inches from the tips to create little balls of musk mustard. Rest assured the trimmings weren’t wasted; they went into the evening’s salad.
The tight rosette of veg held just the right amount of batter, and let me produce delicious little balls of musk mustard tempura. Crunchy and light.
What You’ll Need to Make Musk Mustard Tempura
10 musk mustard rosettes (dig up the whole plant)
1 cup rice flour or finely ground regular flour
1/4 teaspoon finely ground salt
1/2 cup cold, sparkling water
What You’ll Do to Make Musk Mustard Tempura
Wash each musk mustard rosette thoroughly. Remove any yellow leaves and trim off the tap root. Hold a rosette in one hand, and use scissors to trim off several inches from the ends of the leaves. This will transform each rosette into a little ball of musk mustard. Do this for each rosette, then let them dry on a paper towel.
Plug in your fry daddy (or put your Dutch oven on the front burner), and add enough oil to completely cover your largest musk mustard. As the oil heats, mix up your batter.
Combine the rice flour, salt, and water in a bowl, and stir it with a pair of chopsticks (because this is tempura!). The batter should be thin enough to flow inside the layers of foliage, but not so thin that the batter runs off the leaves entirely. Flip a little batter into the oil, and when it’s hot enough to instantaneously fry that drop of batter, you are good to go. (Don’t ask me what the oil temperature was, because I don’t know.)
When the oil is hot, use your chopsticks to dip a musk mustard ball into the batter, turning the veg to coat it thoroughly. Knock off any extra batter by tapping the chopsticks against the side of the batter bowl, then drop the musk mustard into the oil.
When the batter is a light, golden brown, remove the musk mustard from the oil, and lay it on a paper towel, to absorb excess oil.
Musk mustard tempura (like all tempura) is best eaten immediately, while it’s still hot. Dip individual pieces in soy sauce, or sprinkle with a little salt, and enjoy.