A couple of days back, an old friend of mine, C, asked on Facebook if anyone knew how to fry tempeh. I grew up in a small town in Johor, Malaysia that had a strong Javanese-origin population. Tempeh is Indonesian in origin, and is especially popular in Java.
An extract from Wikipedia:
Tempeh, or tempe in Indonesian, is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. Tempeh is unique among major traditional soy-foods in that it is the only one that did not originate in China or Japan. It originated in today’s Indonesia, and is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh’s fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It has a firm texture and strong flavor. Because of its nutritional value, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine; some consider it to be a meat analogue.
I grew up eating tempeh. I was lucky as I grew up in a really multi ethnic family and community, and although our family has no Malay background, my mother grew up in a predominantly Malay society. She speaks like a Malay, sometimes dresses like a Malay, and she is very good at cooking Malay dishes. She just doesn’t look Malay
And so, I grew up eating tempeh that mama used to buy from the Batu Pahat wet market. If I remember correctly, it used to cost RM 0.50 for each piece of tempeh that came wrapped in banana leaf. Mama would fry them as it is, and it would be accompanied by the must-have sambal kicap, a condiment that is very Johorean in origin. Johoreans eat almost everything with sambal kicap. Soto, sup ayam, ikan bakar and even pisang goreng! (Fried banana fritters) I never eat pisang goreng if it’s not from Batu Pahat.
So when I saw that question C posed on Facebook, I gave her some suggestions as to how to fry the tempeh. Mama usually fries it as it is, but sometimes you get food stalls that sells tempeh fried with a batter. That very day, I went to the organic shop just across my house to buy some Japanese soba. And what did I see? TEMPEH! Unbelievable. Of course I had to buy a packet. It didn’t come cheap though. Almost EUR5 for a 250g pack.
The HB had never heard of tempeh before (!!!) much less eaten it, so I decided to try something a little different by adding spices to it.
250 g tempeh, sliced into desired sizes
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp curry powder
3 tsp fennel seeds, coarsely pounded
2 tsp cumin seeds, coarsely pounded
2 tsp coriander seeds, coarsely pounded
1 tsp salt
Water, a few tablespoons
Fried tempeh with spices
1. Mix spices and salt in a bowl.
2. Slowly add water to make a paste. Paste should not be runny or too thick, but enough to coat the tempeh.
3. Coat tempeh well.
4. Fry in hot oil, flip sides to brown evenly.
5. Remove from oil when golden brown, place on kitchen towel to absorb excess oil.
6. Serve with sambal kicap.
Sambal kicap Johor
1. 2 birds eye chili (cili padi) – more if you like it hot
2. 2 cloves garlic
3. 1 tsp sugar
4. 3 tbsps kicap manis (Chinese dark soy sauce WON’T work!)
5. 1/2 lime
1. Pound chilli, garlic and sugar till it forms a fine paste and chilli seeds can’t be seen.
2. Add kicap manis to the mortar.
3. Remove from mortar, place into a small sauce dish.
4. Squeeze lime and mix well.
For a person who has never tried tempeh, the HB liked it enough to polish it off. I think the pairing with sambal kicap made all the difference
- You can add more of the spices if you like a stronger flavour
- If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, get one! If I can get one here in Modena after much hunting, I’m sure you can too