Our Chef’s Training student, Roberta Roberti, shares her appreciation and knowledge of tempeh, the renowned traditional and vegan protein source . . .
Vegetarians have enjoyed tempeh for years, but it’s been only in the last 10 years or so that non-vegetarians became aware of it. Today it is a commonly found ingredient in supermarkets. Still, I don’t know many serious carnivores who have ever heard of it, much less tasted it. I’m proud to say even meat-lovers who try my tempeh dishes are won over.
I eat tempeh because it’s a whole food, as well as a good source of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It can be used in so many ways. Because it of its chewy, dense texture, it makes a fantastic meat substitute.
Whole, sliced, chopped, crumbled, marinated, jerked, sautéed, baked, broiled, sliced, grilled, and braised―tempeh works with any technique you can thing of. Roll it in sushi or tuck it into a sandwich (one of the most well-known tempeh dishes is the Tempeh “Reuben”). Crumble it and use it in a stir fry, chili, tacos, casseroles, or stew.
Okay, it doesn’t really taste like meat but, in dishes where meat is prominent, you can substitute tempeh and not feel like you’re missing anything. In fact, it is often called “Javanese meat,” as it is particularly popular in Java as a protein source. Speaking of protein, tempeh is a richer source of protein than tofu, as well as a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins.
A traditional food of Indonesia, tempeh is made by binding partially cooked soybeans in a fermentation process until it forms a solid, firm cake. A white substance called mycelia is interlaced throughout the soybeans.
There are different types of tempeh sold in markets — such as wild rice, 5-grain, flax seed, vegetable — but you can also find different prepared versions of tempeh. Some are marinated in barbecue or teriyaki sauce, while others are ready-to-heat-and-serve meals, such as tempeh kebabs and tempeh cubes in lemon sauce. Tempeh’s versatility is amazing. Find tempeh in health food stores and places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Because of trends in healthy eating, vegetarianism, and global cuisine, many large, well-stocked supermarkets also carry it.
The recipe below is for Tempeh Mendoan, also known as Mendoan Beancake. In American terms, I guess you can call it Indonesian Battered Tempeh. It’s adapted from and courtesy of Indonesian-Culinary.com. Note that in the Spice Paste ingredient list, they call for “lesser galangal.” This type of galangal is smaller and more reddish than “greater galangal.”
All I have left to say is…Yum!
(Mendoan Beancake, or Indonesian Battered Tempeh)
5 shallots, thinly sliced
5 green birds eye chilies, seeded and minced
1 kafir lime, juiced
6 tablespoons shoyu or tamari
5 shallots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon coriander seed
¼” piece lesser galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons rice flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ to ½ cup water as needed
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 block (package) tempeh, 1/4″ sliced
½ cup coconut oil for frying
- Shoyu Sambal: Combine shallots, chilies, kafir lime juice and shoyu in a bowl and set aside.
- Spice paste: Puree shallots, garlic, coriander, and galangal in a food processor. Set aside.
- Mendoan Beancake: In a separate, large bowl, combine flours, salt, and pepper. Add water to flour mixture, little by little, whisking until the mixture forms a thick batter. Add scallions.
- Prepare a platter with paper towels. Heat oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Dip tempeh slices in batter and fry on each side until golden, approximately 30 seconds per side. Transfer tempeh to platter to drain.
- Serve mendoan beancake with shoyu sambal and spice paste.