Sunday, July 6, 2014


No, not the town in Arizona. I have never been there and that Tempe is inedible. This tempe (or some people called it 'tempeh') is made out of soy bean, a great protein source, and pretty delicious. 

In Indonesia this is a very inexpensive food. As in peasant food level. I don't know what it's like nowadays, however, when I was a kid, I used to under-appreciate tempe. I mean... it really was beneath McD or any fast food restaurant. It isn't ever served in any restaurant as fancy food. Ever. Or if it is, it's a part of some dish, never is something featured prominently.

It wasn't until I moved here that I realized how wrong I was. The Indonesians, they got it good. They did it right. Tempe is a high protein, nonfat, delicious alternative to meat. It's even better than those imitation meat. It's nutty, its texture can be manipulated at will, and best of all, it assumes whatever flavor that it's in, much like tofu, but with the added benefit of texture and flavor.

It's hard to find good tempe here. But if you can, find tempe that has a ratio of 3:2 or so of white area and the bean area (easiest is to look at the cross section of tempe). The white area is composed of mycellia from Rhizopus oligosporus and it is the white area that gives it a spongy-like softness. Less white area simply means that the tempe is less cakey and more nutty.

I think you can make tempe if you have the patience. 

The following recipes are sort of a progression of tempe dishes from the simplest one to the most "complicated" one (just takes longer to cook, that's all).

Fried tempe

1 block of tempe cut into 5 mm thick, 1.5 x 2 inch size patties.
Water enough to soak the tempe

1. Brine the tempe for about 1-2 hours or so, overnight is OK too
2. Drain and then deep fry the tempe until golden brown

Tempe stir-fry with soy sauce

1 block of tempe, cubed approx. 0.5 inch thick
1/4 cup soy sauce
2-3 tbs water
1/4 tbs oil

1. Dilute the soy sauce with water
2. Heat oil in pan/wok, add tempe
3. Add soy sauce and toss to coat
4. Reduce heat, adjust taste with salt, pepper sugar

Tempe fritter:

1 block of tempe, divided by half lengthwise, sliced 0.25 inch thick
1/2 recipe tempura batter
2-3 sprigs of chives cut to 1/2 - 1 inch length
1 tsp corriander powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt to tast

1. Coat tempe in tempura batter
2. Deep fry until golden brown

Twice-cooked tempe and tofu

3 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
1 - 2 birds eye chili pepper 
3 - 4 tbs tamarind juice (1 - 2 tbs concentrated tamarind juice)
2 - 3 tbs brown sugar
1 block of tofu cut into 2 x 2 inches cubes
1 block of tempe cut into 2 x 2 inches cubes
1 tbs oil
Salt, sugar to taste

1. Mash/puree shallots, garlic, and birds eye chili pepper
2. In a shallow pan, heat 1 tbs oil and then saute the mashed/pureed ingredients until fragrant (about 1-2 mins).
3. Add about 1-2 cups of water to "quench" the frying oil.
4. Add cubes of tofu and tempe. Adjust the volume of water until the cubes are just about covered by the liquid.
5. Add tamarind juice, brown sugar, salt
6. Bring to a boil and let the sugar dissolve.
7. Reduced heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 1 - 2 hours
8. Halfway through, adjust the flavor using salt, sugar, and/or tamarind juice.
9. Cook until the liquid is reduced to 1/4 of original volume.

1. Fried tempe: they are usually eaten with some sort of sambal. The easiest of course is to use sambal oelek
2. Tempe stir-fry with soy sauce: If you want to "fancify" tempe stir-fry with soy sauce, add non-spicy red pepper that's less fleshy than bell pepper (Cubanelle? Red Italian sweet pepper?). Remove the seeds and slice the pepper diagonally.
3. Tempe fritter: the thinner you slice the tempe, the crispier they will be. They're usually eaten with fresh birds eye chili.
4. Twice-cooked tempe and tofu: you can eat the tempe/tofu after cooking them, but you can also pan-fry them to get that nice charred skin, especially for the tofu. Also good with sambal.
5. All of the above dishes, with the exception of tempe fritter, are usually served with rice. Tempe fritter can go both ways: snack or main meal.

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