Sunday, February 28, 2010

Marinated and fried tempeh, Indonesian style

How could I be vegan for more than ten years and never have tried tempeh? I always meant to, but something about it always turned me off. Now I've had a packet in my fridge for longer than I'm readily willing to admit, and its best before date was fast approaching, so last night I took the tempeh challenge.

I made Deborah Madison's Marinated and fried tempeh, Indonesian style, from her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The recipe is here, uncredited, so I'll give DM her credit back and reproduce it for you:

Marinated and fried tempeh, Indonesian style
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
serves 2 to 4

1 8- or 10-ounce package tempeh
1 1/2 tsp tamarind paste
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3 slices ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp brown sugar
2 pieces galangal, optional
3/4 cup peanut oil

Cut the tempeh into slices about 1/2 inch thick or a little less. Combine 1 1/2 cups water with the remaining ingredients except the oil and bring to a boil. Add the tempeh, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. When hot enough to sizzle a bread crumb, add the tempeh and fry in batches over high heat until golden and crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain briefly on paper towels, then serve with sea salt, a chutney, or a peanut sauce.

Served with the Morning glory with peanut sauce from Chat Mingkwan's Buddha's Table, though with broccoli rabe in place of the morning glory. The peanut sauce recipe is similar to this one, and was very good.

So how was that tempeh? Well, what I was expecting was something punky like blue cheese, and tempeh, even twice cooked with many spices, was surprisingly bland. I wanted to be all, "I do, I like them, Sam-I-am!" about it, but really I was just kind of meh. I am probably going to regret saying that. The texture was nice, not soft like tofu but firm and a bit crumbly, though not crumbly enough to lose its shape when simmered for half an hour in a watery sauce. I'd like to try making some on my own like the industrious Renae does over at i eat food, and I'm thinking that that would be the only thing that would turn me into a total convert. But you never know. Maybe another thing would be if I didn't have to travel so far to buy it at overpriced so-called "natural food" stores, for which I am developing an aversion bordering on mania…but that is a rant for another post.


  1. The tempeh in your photo certainly LOOKS great, even if the taste was so-so. I'm most likely to cut up my tempeh like you did, sprinkle it with a little tamari and sizzle it in a small amount of oil in my wok until it is browned. Yum.

  2. I'm with you on tempeh in general...I've tried it a few different ways and every time I thought: "I would have preferred tofu or seitan with this."

    Your dinner looks good though.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Andrea and Rose! Andrea, next time I will try the tempeh your way, as being simpler and probably just as flavourful as what I did. But yes, in my opinion tofu would have been better in this dish. Oh well, as my Grandma Lulu would say. Live and learn!

  4. Tempeh is v. different texture-wise than tofu & seitan, which sometimes works. It's amazing in a fake chicken salad (cooked basically how Andrea says until it's crunchy on the outside) with celery, pickles, and soy mayo.
    Your chow does look awesome.

  5. Tempeh is a tricky one. On its own, it is a little bland; the problem is that it doesn't take flavor that well. I tend to like it best in recipes when it's diced into crumbles--like biscuits & gravy, tacos, or soyrizo. In small bits it tends to take flavor better.

    That being said, adding a little Liquid Smoke and Tamari can be pretty effective (though the strong smoky flavor kinda limits what you can pair it with).

    It does look really good in your picture though...

  6. I love tempeh. It's perfect marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, and a squirt of Sriracha sauce, and then pan fried in a bit of oil. I'm trying this recipe with less water, more sugar, more salt, longer marination, and less boiling.