Ember Days occur four times in the church year, at the beginning of each season. In spring, those days are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the first Sunday of Lent. These three days are set apart for fasting, abstinence, and prayer. We know that Ember Days have been observed at least since St. Augustine’s time, and possibly from the time of the Apostles . In fact, the observances may even derive from Jewish tradition in which there were four yearly periods of fasting.
The Latin name for the Ember Days is “Quattuor Tempora,” meaning “Four Times.” And here’s where the fun part comes in – Japanese Tempura! In her book A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year, author Evelyn Birge Vitz tells us:
The very word “tempura” is supposed to come from the Latin name for Ember Days… The earliest Christian missionaries to Japan, in the late 16th century, were Spanish and Portuguese. They brought with them, as Catholics, the commitment to abstain from meat and to pray at these moments of the year. From this need, on the one hand, and from the Japanese culinary traditions, on the other, was born this wonderful dish, now, of course, a favorite throughout the world.
Why not observe at least one of the Lenten Ember Days by making Japanese Tempura? It’s a bit time consuming, but that just adds to the penance, right?
Seafood: some possibilities include: 1 pound of shrimp (peeled and deveined) OR 1 pound of salmon, sole, or cod (skinned, deboned, and cut into 1.5 by 3 inch strips).
Vegetables: (any combination of 3 or 4 from this list, cut into 1/4 inch strips): 2 medium carrots, 1/3 pound eggplant, 1 dozen large mushrooms (cut in halves through stems), 1 sweet potato, 1 zucchini, or slices of green pepper, green beans, or onions
Frying Oil: 1-1/2 to 2 quarts
Tempura Batter: In a small bowl, lightly beat together 1 cup ice cold water, 1 egg, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup cake flour. Mix (batter will be lumpy). Sprinkle another 1/3 cup cake flour over top of batter. Stir batter one or two strokes (do not blend thoroughly). Much of the last addition of flour will be floating on the top. Fill a larger bowl half full of ice and set the small batter bowl inside it to keep the batter cold while you cook.
Tempura Dipping Sauce: In a saucepan, combine 1 bottle (8oz) of clam juice with 1/4 cup each soy sauce and dry sherry. Bring to boil, remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature. Shred enough fresh ginger root and white radish to make 3 tablespoons each to add to sauce according to individual taste.
To cook tempura, heat frying oil in a wok (or other suitable pan) to 375 degrees. Dip seafood and vegetables individually into tempura batter with tongs. Let excess batter drip off, then gently lower pieces into hot oil. Cook several pieces at a time without crowding. Turn occasionally until crisp and lightly golden (about 2-3 minutes). Remove with slotted spoons and drain briefly on a wire rack. Serve immediately with Tempura Dipping Sauce.
Failing that, get someone who loves you to take you out to the nearest Sesame Grill. 😉
PS: To learn more about the summer, fall, and winter Ember Days, as well as other Catholic feasts and fasts, order your Catholic Calendar from Catholic to the Max and you’ll have everything you need.