If you like ratatouille, I think you’ll be into this. It’s got all that deep tomato flavour, but with a touch of smoke and a bit more texture, thanks to the tempeh, and the flavours are sweet and sour and spicy all at once. It also comes together in about half an hour, so it is in many ways a perfect cloudy summer day dish, nourishing and flavourful but not a huge pain in the ass to pull together on a weeknight.
Tempeh is a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesia, where it’s very popular in Bali – the soybeans are bound together by a mold that sort of resembles the white rind on a wheel of brie. It’s a living food that’s very high in protein and fibre, and it’s got a mild flavour and firm texture that has allowed me to pass it off as chicken nuggets to some of our less discerning family members. Tempeh is often found near the tofu in the market; if you can’t find it, you can use extra firm tofu.
If you’re in Vancouver, check out Tempea Foods tempeh, which is made locally and often available at the Vancouver Farmer’s Markets. I am in love with this product (I don’t get paid to say that, so it’s earnest).
For the recipe that follows, if you’re not able to find tamarind paste, use cooking molasses. If you’re not able to find lime leaves, use the zest and juice of an additional lime. Look for fresh lime leaves in Asian grocery stores or in the Asian ingredients section of your market’s produce section; you can often find dried or frozen lime leaves in Asian markets as well.
(Makes four servings.)
- 3 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil, divided
- 2 shallots, roughly chopped
- 6 garlic gloves
- 1″ (2.5 cm) piece ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 3 tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. sambal oelek
- 1 tbsp. tamarind paste
- 1 tbsp. fish sauce
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1 lime leaf
- Zest and juice one one lime
- 7 oz. (200 g) block tempeh, cut into inch-wide squares
- 1/2 lb. (225 g) Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into inch-wide pieces
- 1 1/2 lbs. (680 g) tomatoes, quartered lengthwise and then widthwise into 8 pieces
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup toasted cashews
- Finely chopped scallions, for garnish
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass, and cook – stirring occasionally – until browned and slightly charred in places, about three minutes. Pour this mixture into a blender.
To the blender, add brown sugar, sambal oelek, tamarind paste or molasses, fish sauce, ground turmeric, lime leaf (if using), and lime zest and juice. Blend until pureed. Set aside.
Add the pan back to medium-high heat and add another tablespoon of oil.
Cook the tempeh for about two minutes per side, until browned and charred in places. Remove tempeh to a plate lined with paper towel.
Add the final tablespoon of oil to the pan. Cook the eggplant in a manner similar to the tempeh – until browned and charred in bits. Another two minutes.
Add the tomatoes to the pan, and add the tempeh back. Reduce heat to medium. Add the reserved blender mixture. Add salt and pepper. Stir the mixture together and cook – stirring occasionally – until the tomatoes and eggplant have expressed most of their liquid and the sauce has thickened, another 10 to 12 minutes. The mixture should resemble a chunky tomato sauce.
Stir cashews into the pan, and then sprinkle with scallions. Serve over rice.