If you’ve ever been to Bali or any of the other Indonesian islands, you probably noticed tempeh on most of their restaurant menus. Tempeh, a traditional Indonesian food is made from fermented soybeans. It’s made using a special fungus to begin a natural culturing process that then binds the soybeans into a cake form. Since these soybeans aren’t processed or refined they keep their shape and texture which results in a very nutritious food that is high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein. Tempeh has a wonderfully nutty flavor and firm texture. Here in the US, tempeh is mostly available small 8 to 14 ounce vacuum sealed packs in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. Years ago it was available only in health food stores, but today even Fred Meyer carries several different varieties.
Anyway, in Bali we found tempeh (and tofu) on the menu in every single restaurant. It generally was grilled and served with a peanut sauce, or as in this recipe, lightly fried and served with some kind of vegetable sambal. Either way, it’s delicious! And ever since, I’ve wondered why I haven’t used this healthy, tasty and varied ingredient more often over the years.
Restaurant with a View of the Rice Fields!
When I came across this tempeh recipe in Meera Sodha’s new “East” cookbook, I just had to give it a try. I had all the ingredients on hand except for the lemon grass and shallots. Instead of that I finely minced a couple of quarters of the preserved lemon I recently made and a finely chopped onion. I absolutely loved the extra lemony punch it added to the dish. While this is very delicious with baby bok choi, it would be good too with green beans, asparagus or any other greens just barely wilted in the pot at the end of the cooking time.
If you’ve never tried tempeh, I encourage you to get a pack or two next time you’re at the grocery store. This recipe here is a great introduction to tempeh! I loved this dish so much that I made it several times last month.
Tempeh with Baby Bok Choi and Tomato Sambal
- 1 pack (14 ounces) of tempeh, cut into 4 triangles
- a little neutral oil (I used almond oil)
- 1 sweet or yellow onion, finely chopped or a few shallots
- several large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 stalk of lemongrass, bottom 2 inches only finely chopped, or 1/2 a preserved lemon minced or a few finely minced Kafir lime leaves
- a hot Chile to taste, for heat finely mince the chili, for just a hint of heat poke a few holes into it and leave it whole
- 3/4 pound tomatoes, chopped (I think a can of chopped tomatoes would work too)
- a little sea salt
- 1 tablespoon kecap manis or 1 tablespoon soy sauce & 1 tablespoon agave or maple syrup or honey
- about 1/2 a pound of baby bok choi, cut into wedges lengthwise
Heat a little oil in a wide deep pan. When hot add the tempeh triangles.
Fry for several minutes until both sides are nicely browned and crisp.
Remove the tempeh from the pan and drain on a paper towel.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed and then the chopped onions or shallots.
Sauté the onions until they start turning crisp and a little dark.
Next, add the lemony flavor of your choice, the garlic and chili if you’re using it.
Stir and cook until everything’s fragrant and the garlic’s lost its raw taste.
Add the tomatoes to the pan and cook at a lively simmer until everything’s soft and jammy.
If the pan gets to dry add a tiny bit of water to keep things from burning and sticking.
Add the salt and kecap manis and blend it into the tomatoes.
Then nestle the tempeh into the tomato sambal.
Turn up the heat and layer the greens across the tomato sambal.
Cover the pan and cook for 2 or 3 minutes to just barely wilt the greens.
Carefully blend everything and taste if the seasoning needs adjusting.
This is really tasty served with some freshly cooked rice.
And leftovers are super yummy too!