Thursday, May 9, 2013

Curried Tempeh with Mustard Greens and Cellophane Noodles

I'll be perfectly honest: I didn't like tempeh as a kid.

In fact, early experiences with tempeh meant that I didn't give it much of a chance again until about a year ago, but, boy howdy, am I making up for lost time.

Tempeh is a protein-rich food made from split soybeans and, sometimes, a variety of grains which have been parcooked and innoculated with Rhizopus oligosporus, a type of fungus, and incubated for 24-48 hours. The culture partially ferments the legumes/grains, making them easier to digest, and binds them together into a firm cake with a mild flavor somewhere between nuts and mushrooms. It can be sliced or crumbled and holds up to grilling or stir-frying. Most tempeh is gluten-free, but, if you're concerned about that kind of thing, it's important to read the labels on multigrain tempehs, which vary in contents, but sometimes include gluten-bearing barley or rye.

In its native Indonesia, it's very often served fried or grilled, often with some kind of lightly sweet & spicy accompaniment. Peanuts turn up with it a lot too. For me, I've found that I still don't fancy the taste of plain tempeh - despite liking nuts, mushrooms and tempeh - but that sauteéing it until it's a little crispy with some salt or soy sauce makes a world of difference.

Recently, I've been cooking it up in a spicy-sweet stir-fry with mustard greens, largely inspired by this South Indian take on tempeh from Delectible Victuals, with the addition of a generous helping of fresh cilantro, including the stems. It's good over rice, but it's great tossed with thin cellophane noodles, made from mung beans and also gluten free (available at Asian markets - rice vermicelli is a good, slightly more common replacement and any other thin, clear noodle would work). If you want to serve with rice or bread, you can simply omit the steps in the recipe below involving the noodles. It's also at least as good cold the next day.

Curried Tempeh with Mustard Greens and Cellophane Noodles

vegan, gluten-free (depending on tempeh, soy-sauce)
Ready in about 30 minutes, serves 2-3
  • 1 small-medium onion, small dice
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ red bell pepper, medium dice
  • 1-2 tsp. light-flavored oil
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • handful cilantro
  • soy sauce
  • 1 Tblsp. sugar
  • 1 8-oz. package tempeh, crumbled
  • thick chili sauce, like sambal oelek or sriracha, to taste (start with 1-2 tsp.)
  • 1 good sized bunch mustard greens or other medium-weight green like swiss chard, sliced into 1" ribbons
  • about 4 oz. dried cellophane noodles - in the packages I get, this is two bundles
  • crushed peanuts (optional)
Start by putting the noodles in a bowl of warm water to soak, which is all the precooking they need. They will need to soak at least 15 minutes. Prep the veggies and crumble tempeh coarsely. Cut off the bottom half of the cilantro stalks. Set aside the leafy end for later and mince the stem end very small.

Heat a large wok or skillet over a high heat. Add a teaspoon or two of oil and swirl to coat. Add tempeh and a teaspoon or two of soy sauce. Cook until tempeh becomes browned and a little crispy. Set aside and try not to pick at it too much. Wilt the greens slightly in a separate pan with a tight fitting lid by putting on medium-low heat with a tiny bit of water in the bottom. The greens will reduce in volume by at least half.

Add a little more oil to the wok or skillet and add the onions, garlic, bell pepper and minced cilantro stem. Saute until the peppers and onions get a little color, then add the turmeric and sugar. Add the tempeh and chili sauce. Drain the noodles, then add the wilted greens and noodles to the wok or skillet. Toss to combine. Remove from heat and toss with roughly chopped cilantro leaves. Adjust soy sauce, chili and sweet levels as desired. Serve with optional crushed peanuts on top.

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