While away, I fell into something perhaps best described as a tempeh stupor. Any meal featuring the stuff got ordered because no two dishes arrived at any given table in quite the same way. Cut into paper-thin sheets, sometimes slightly thicker squares, often into tiny crunchy batons, but always deep-fried to a golden crisp, and always – always – it was good. Lots of ideas simmered away in the back of my holidaying mind, mostly how to introduce it all the blokes on my return. How you prepare your eaters matters almost as much as how you prepare the food itself at times, and to simply presume they would like tempeh any less than the tofu they now consume, happily, without a trace of suspicion, would be because I’d not done my usual bang-up job of selling it to them.
Tofu took some time. It’s only right that tempeh should, too.
The thing about tempeh is that, like its mellower cousin tofu, it is an acquired taste. Not acquired in that it has a strong flavour or fragrance like, say, a ripe stilton, but that its place in the kitchen takes a little time to sort out, to fit in with your style of cooking, to work around the constraints of what works taste-wise within your little group. Tofu is a great absorber, a real sponge, drinking in the flavours surrounding it, whereas tempeh is richer and fuller, a toothsome texture that, yes, will happily blend into a dish, but manages to somehow resist just a little, to command some attention. Tofu may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but tempeh isn’t fooling a soul.
This, rather pleasingly, they loved. Sold.
palm sugar fried tempeh
Take a block of tempeh and cut it into short, thin batons (the pic above - ah, nasi campur, how I love thee - serves as a good guide). Heat a puddle of peanut oil - better still, coconut oil - in a wok and, when hot, fry the tempeh in small batches until golden. Drain on a crumpled paper bag (or kitchen paper if yours is a better-stocked home than mine).
Whisk up a little sauce of a couple of teaspoons of tamarind paste, a glug of ketcap manis, and 2 tablespoons of palm sugar with about 1/2 a cup of water. Drain the oil from the wok, set it over a low heat and chuck in the fried tempeh followed by the sauce. Let things simmer and bubble away for about 5, maybe 6 minutes, until all is coated and glazed and it all smells very good.
Serve with lots of sliced red chilli and fried shallots and, if you're brave, fried slivers of garlic.