After reading my lament on the sponginess of tofu, my sister, who bakes in a vegetarian restaurant and knows much more about vegetarian food than I do, suggested that I try tempeh. As she put it, “People who don’t like tofu like tempeh.” This made me a prime candidate (though to be fair, I have had a few decent tofu meals of late). Tempeh is similar to tofu in that it’s made from soybeans, but it often contains rice or other grains. The result is a much firmer, tastier product than the flavorless marshmallow-cube that is tofu. Not only that, but tempeh has more “protein, fiber, and vitamins” than tofu (according to Wikipedia), making it even better for the many vegetarian endurance athletes who are presumably reading this blog!
So Erin and I decided to give tempeh a try, with very high expectations. And we were not disappointed. It seems tempeh, when cooked, takes on a flavor and texture not entirely unlike chicken! Granted, it’s not a Chick-Fil-A 12-pack of nuggets, but it’s the closest vegetarian food has come for me. This got the hamster wheel spinning in the old noggin-head, and I started excitedly daydreaming about ways to imitate buffalo-style chicken, my favorite food in the whole world, with tempeh. I may have even drooled a bit.
But lest I get ahead of myself, I’ll just let the buffalo tempeh idea simmer for now. Today’s meal is called Szechuan Tempeh with Sweet-Spicy Peanut Sauce, my hot-served adaptation of a cold-served Chinese dish I found in a vegetarian cookbook. You’ll notice that in my recipe I’m suggesting you serve it over brown rice; we used rice noodles and I wasn’t a fan.
Tempeh with Peanut Sauce Recipe
Ingredients (for the tempeh):
- 8 ounces tempeh, diced into half-inch cubes
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce (I used tamari)
- 4 tsp minced fresh ginger
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 8 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
- 1 cup brown rice (alternatively, 1 package rice noodles)
- salt and fresh-ground black pepper
Ingredients (for the peanut sauce):
- 1/4 cup peanut butter
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp dry sherry
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon chili paste or curry paste
Mix the tempeh, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a medium bowl and let stand for 15 minutes or more. Cook the brown rice however you like, my favorite is simmering in 2 cups of water with 1/2 tsp salt for 20-30 minutes. If using rice noodles instead, soak in warm water for 15-20 minutes or until tender.
Whisk together the ingredients for the peanut sauce in a bowl until smooth; set aside.
Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the tempeh and cook until lightly browned, stirring often for 3-5 minutes, then keep warm in a bowl covered with foil. Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp canola oil in the skillet, add the cucumbers, half the red bell pepper, and half the scallions. Season with just a pinch of salt and cook the vegetables until barely tender, maybe 2 minutes.
Serve the tempeh and vegetables on top of the rice or noodles, drizzle with sauce, and garnish with remaining (uncooked) bell pepper, scallions, and peanuts.
Makes 4 small servings. (Update: The servings aren’t as small as I thought when I first published this. I just ate my share of the leftovers and I’m completely full.)
We decide to give this meal a strong 3 cows out of 5, but I think using brown rice instead of rice noodles would have elevated it in terms of both taste and nutrition (I haven’t seen brown rice noodles, so if you want rice noodles you’re stuck with the white version). I think rice noodles would probably taste better with the cleaner flavors of the chilled, raw-vegetable version of the dish. Make no mistake though, our rating of “3” is no knock on tempeh. The tempeh was the shining star of this meal for me, and my mind is still racing about possibilities for using tempeh in place of chicken in my favorite chicken dishes. You can expect to see lots of those in the days ahead.
Yes, buffalo fans, it’s coming.