Sweet and sour tempeh

OK, I admit that I consider any recipe that involves ketchup to be cheating, but the results here are so good, that you could say the ends justify the means. This recipe for sweet and sour tempeh takes its sauce from a recipe I learned in Thailand (yes, it turns out that Thai cooks use ketchup), while tempeh is a fermented soybean product from Indonesia with a rich, almost meaty (or mushroomy) taste. It’s a nice alternative to tofu, and it’s also quite filling. I purchased mine frozen, at East West in the Carmel market, but the ambitious can make their own by following the instructions here.

Aside from a package of tempeh, I used an onion, a carrot, two tomatoes, a red pepper and a few stalks of green onions, and for the sauce, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup sugar. I sliced the tempeh into long, thin strips, diced the carrot into thin disks, and chopped the other vegetables into large chunks. For a Thai twist, you can add pineapple.

Now the frying begins: I find tempeh incredibly satisfying to pan fry, since it turns a nice, crispy golden brown and doesn’t burn too easily (in my experience). Lightly oil (1-2 tablespoons) a heavy frying pan on a medium-high flame, and lay out the tempeh in one layer. Flip them to brown the strips on both sides.

Once the tempeh is golden, push it to the side of the pan and add the carrot, onion and pepper, and a little more oil if you need. Stir the vegetables as they cook — they’re best when they’re crispy, which means a short time on high heat. Add the tomatoes, the white ends of the green onions and then the sauce. Stir for another few minutes, so that the sauce evenly covers the vegetables and the tempeh. Add the green part of the green onions, and turn off the heat. Serve with rice.

(And for those who don’t know how to prepare rice: Cook long-grain rice in nearly double the amount of water, for instance 2 cups rice and 3 1/2 cups water. Dump the rice and water together into a thick-bottomed pot, put on the lid and let simmer on a small flame for 10-15 minutes once the water begins to boil. No peeking until it’s done — once all the water has been absorbed by the rice.)

Below, from left: The vegetables that went into the stir fry, the tempeh browning on the flame and the final product.

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