Many years ago I was shown how to make Tempeh by Sri Owen and her husband Roger at their home and I was surprised how easy and gratifying it was. Sri Owen is an expert on Indonesian food and her book Indonesian Food is well worth owning.
The key to enjoying tempeh is marinating it, traditionally with a rub of garlic and toasted coriander or lemongrass flavoured shoyu. Shoyu is a great base for all kinds of salads and stir fries, including the Indonesian Gado Gado below. Satay tempeh is also a favourite from our Asian Street Food courses.
Tempeh is made from soybeans which are soaked and steamed, peeled and split, mixed with a starter culture “Rhizophus Oligosporus” and then packed into perforated plastic bags. It is left to mature at a temperature of 30C for 2 days in much the same way as blue cheese. It is referred to in Indonesia as “the meat of the fields.” Tempeh is far less expensive, but just as nutritious.
There are all kinds of reasons to give tempeh a try. It's an excellent source of vitamins, rich in protein, high in fibre, low in calories, low in saturated fats, and low in carbohydrates, free of cholesterol and easier to digest than tofu. It’s gluten free and vegan. It's also becoming easier to acquire. Tempeh is readily available from Asian stores & health food stores and is usually kept in the freezer. At home it's best to keep it in the freezer until you need it as it will carry on fermenting and turn black if left in the fridge.
One of our favourite ways to make tempeh is Gado Gado, a classic Indonesian dish which literally means “Mix Mix”. It features green beans and other vegetables, hard boiled eggs and a spicy peanut sauce. Traditionally Gado Gado is served with crispy prawn crackers and a good vegetarian alternative is fried rice noodles or cassava chips to give the dish added crunch. Below is our recipe for marinated tempeh, along with Gado Gado and the essential satay sauce to serve with it. Each component is good on its own, but together it's truly wonderful!
Gado Gado with Satay Tempeh
Serves: 4-6 | Dietary: contains nuts, wheat free, vegan option
For the salad
To make the marinade for the Tempeh: Place all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl or Tupperware box and add the tempeh, make sure it is covered with liquid. Mix well so that the tempeh is well coated and leave in the refrigerator to marinade. You can leave it for one hour or up to 12 hours for a stronger flavour.
To make the Peanut Sauce: In a small food processor (or with a sharp knife) chop the chillies, garlic, lemongrass and lime leaves until they are a paste. Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan and add the spicy paste. Stir fry for 5 minutes on a low heat. Add the peanut butter, lime juice and zest, tamarind and black pepper and 2 tbsp water. Stir well and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes. Taste and add sugar, lime, salt and pepper to your taste
To prepare the vegetables: Top and tail the beans and slice the cabbage into thick strips. Cut the potatoes into quarters and place in a pan of cold water-bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until they are almost cooked. Add the beans to the boiling water for the final 2 minutes, and finally the cabbage for about 1 minute. As you drain the vegetables add the beansprouts-they will cook with the heat of the other vegetables. Leave the vegetables to stand for a couple of minutes and then cool under cold water and set aside.
To cook the tempeh: When you are ready to cook remove the tempeh from the marinade and drain on kitchen towel. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok or large frying pan and add the tempeh. Stir fry quickly until it is golden on the outside, about 5-10 minutes.
To assemble the Gado Gado: Place the cooked vegetables on a large serving plate and cover with the peanut sauce. Arrange the stir fried tempeh on top and garnish with the hard boiled eggs, chopped coriander, chopped chilli and crispy noodles or cassava chips and toasted peanuts.
Alternatively you can thread the tempeh onto kebab sticks and cook in a frying pan, under the grill or on a barbeque. Just make sure it is coated in a little oil.