Fried food to perk up a rainy, grey winter

Tempura, crunchy rice, fried shrimp and crab rangoon add sizzle to wake you out of a new year of cold and rainy days.
(Kell Lorenz / For The Times)

I don’t know what it’s been like in Los Angeles since the start of the new year, but here in Berkeley — where I’ve been camped out with my partner who’s enrolled in grad school at UC Berkeley — it’s been rainy and cold with gray skies pretty much every day. And while I love weather like that occasionally, the incessant nature of it here does start to work on your mental well-being after a while. We’ve also been trying — like most people this time of year — to “eat healthier,” so the lack of turning to our favorite foods for comfort hasn’t helped much either.

That said, a couple of days ago, he and I celebrated our 11th anniversary together at Ramen Shop in Oakland, which has been a constant in our milestone celebrations since the beginning. There, the ramen is, indeed, phenomenal. But by far our favorite thing to order is the tempura. The vegetables change seasonally and are always perfectly crisp and served with a schmear of bracingly spicy and/or tart mayo. We were likely starving when we ate it, but nonetheless, the salty, hot crunch of the onions and delicata squash we ate revived our spirits from the overwhelming dampness outside.

A salad we ordered also came with a crunchy accoutrement: fried chunks of rice. Inspired by the Thai salad nam khao tod, the rice croutons added heartiness and levity to a chicory salad with citrus and a coconut-tamarind dressing. That salad and the tempura we ate with it revived our spirits from the weeks of bleak weather and made the half-moon in the night sky shine as bright as the midday Caribbean sun.

While people may think frying at home is not worth it, as a home-frying advocate, I’m here to tell you it’s very much a game-changer. As long as you only fry a little to serve two to four, not a party-sized crowd, it’s manageable and rewarding. To relive that Ramen Shop meal when I’m back in L.A. next week, I plan on making Genevieve Ko’s firecracker vegetable tempura lettuce wraps, which wraps hot tempura in cold, crunchy little gem lettuce leaves and cooling, creamy avocado. I’ll fry a few slices of onion, kabocha squash, mushrooms or green beans, which will allow me to fill only a small saucepan with about a cup of oil and keep the mess to a minimum.

To go with those tempura wraps, Kris Yenbamroong’s nam khao tod recipe —teeming with four different types of chile, lime, peanuts and ginger — will go perfectly to add more crunch and heat to a cheat night meal.


And for the next week, I’ll invite a few friends over for an at-home tiki party and make my rice noodle-crusted “coco” fried shrimp and crab rangoon with plum sauce, both inspired by another East Bay institution, Trader Vic’s, that used to stand at the corner of 65th and San Pablo — around the block from my first apartment in the East Bay — in Oakland back in the early 1940s before it moved to a waterside dock in Emeryville. Those fried appetizers will go fantastically with a spinach salad and some tropical cocktails, which will further help bring some warmth and sunshine into our diets at this time of year when we need it most.

Rice noodle-crusted “coco” fried shrimp

Instead of coconut, these shrimp are coated in crushed rice noodles that have been deep-fried first. The texture of the noodles gives the shrimp an extremely light and crunchy coating — similar to the crispy fried edges of Japanese tempura — that makes them fun to eat.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - Thursday, July 27, 2023: Fried shrimp, made at the LA Times Test Kitchen in El Segundo
(Kell Lorenz / For The Times)

Crab rangoon with plum sauce

Thinly sliced scallions are added to the filling for these crab rangoons to give them lightness and freshness. Homemade plum sauce upgrades the store-bought kind to give the dish a great dimension of flavor — the tart, spiced sauce balances the cheesy filling perfectly.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 50 minutes, plus chilling.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - Thursday, July 27, 2023: Crab Rangoons, made at the LA Times Test Kitchen in El Segundo
(Kell Lorenz / For The Times)

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Firecracker vegetable tempura lettuce wraps

The best lettuce wraps cradle something hot and fatty. Case in point: tempura. Plucked sizzling and hot from the oil, the contrast against the cold, crunchy lettuce and sauce is intense and satisfying.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 10 minutes.

LOS ANGELES, CA-June 20, 2019: Japanese Vegetable Tempura Lettuce Wrap on Thursday, June 20, 2019.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Nam khao tod

Nam khao tod is a traditional dish from Laos and northern Thailand. A salad made with crunchy rice generously spiked with funky fish sauce, Thai chiles, peanuts, raw ginger and naem, a sour Thai fermented pork sausage — it’s the ideal dish to wake up your senses during the winter months.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 20 minutes.

Chef Kris Yenbamroong's famous Nam Khao Tod, a Thai toasted rice salad, at his home on July 31, 2015.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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