Trust me. This is better than you think tempeh can be. I’ve had plenty of bland, or just plain nasty tasting tempeh in health food restaurants over the years. But here it is January and we’re all trying to eat better after the holiday excess.
I’ve eaten my share of dal, beans, and leafy greens, and now I’m ready to branch out of my healthy cooking rut, so I thought I’d give tempeh another try.
What’s tempeh? It’s a fermented soybean cake that originated in Indonesia. The fermentation process makes it one of the healthiest forms of soy. It’s more digestible than tofu and it retains live active cultures that are good for your gut flora. High in protein, vitamins, and minerals, tempeh makes a good meat substitute.
It’s made by drying partially cooked soybeans and then adding yeast and letting the beans ferment. The process creates a firm cake that has a full nutty flavor when cooked properly (which, unfortunately for fat phobics, means frying). Don’t worry, there isn’t much oil required. This recipe calls for Kecap Manis, an Indonesian condiment found in Southeast Asian grocery stores. If you can’t find it, substitute a mild flavored molasses.
Make sure you slice the cake thinly on the diagonal. It makes for a greater surface area to caramelize and crisp while frying. This improves both the texture and flavor. The easy sauce for this recipe can be whisked together in moments. Add it to the pan after the tempeh becomes golden brown, and it will create a tasty sweet-tart-savory glaze. I like to serve this over brown rice with sautéed greens, and a little kim chi or sauerkraut on the side.
Pan-Fried Tempeh with Lemongrass, Garlic, and Ginger
1 tablespoon very finely chopped lemongrass
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated on a microplane or holes of a small grater
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons Kecap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
A couple shakes of your favorite chili sauce (Siracha works great)
8 ounces plain, unflavored organic tempeh (sliced into 1/4-inch-thick slices at an angle to produce wide slices)
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Whisk together the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, Kecap Manis, soy sauce and chili sauce.
In a large sauté pan (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat, warm the vegetable oil. Start with 2 tablespoons and add more as needed. You may need to cook the tempeh in batches because it won’t crisp up properly if it’s crowded in the pan. Add the tempeh slices and let sizzle on one side, without turning, for 3-5 minutes, or until deep, golden brown. Turn and cook on the other side until brown. Remove to a paper towel lined plate if cooking in batches.
After all the tempeh slices are browned, turn off the heat, pour off excess oil, if any remains, and return the slices to the pan. While the pan is still hot, add the sauce and shake the pan to make sure the sauce coats all of the tempeh slices evenly. It will sizzle and make a thick, dark, glaze. Serve immediately.