Tempeh Challenge: Indonesian-Inspired Tempeh Skewers

It’s been a hot and busy week! I actually made these Indonesian-inspired tempeh skewers on Monday, but this is the first time I’ve had the time or the mental strength to sit down and write about it what with our heat wave and high humidity for days on end. I don’t do well in this kind of weather! Argh! Madison County Fair and Food 055

As part of the Tempeh Challenge that I put out there for myself, I hunted around and found this really-nice looking recipe for Sate Tempeh.

In thinking about what my issue is with tempeh, I’ve come to realize that part of the problem is that I’m using “Western-mind” on a food whose origins are from Asia. Once I started reading up on where tempeh comes from and looking at some traditional recipes that call for it, I understood that many of the recipes I was finding on Pinterest weren’t completely treating tempeh the way it usually is. Here are some of my discoveries:

1) Tempeh’s flavor can be improved by steaming or cooking it a little prior to marinating it. I found this information on a really helpful web site: http://www.vegancoach.com/tempeh.html#anchor-tempeh-prep This fact is demonstrated in the recipe for the Sate Tempeh (linked above), which calls for us to steam the tempeh for 10 minutes before tossing it in a marinade. This important step is missing in most of the recipes I found that come from Western origins.

2) Because tempeh is … well, not your usual fruit, vegetable, and least of all meat, you don’t just toss it into a pan and stir-fry it or bake it. The Vegan Coach web site also walks you through how to prep this food to take advantage of its properties. If you’re like me and don’t have the tastebuds for it, you certainly don’t eat it unprocessed at all. I’ve found more than one recipe that calls for us to basically cube it, toss it into a salad and add dressing. Tried it. Fail.

Now that I know this, I’ll probably work on a couple of recipes of my own and use them in the Tempeh Challenge. I’ve also decided to add a scoring system so we can see who is ‘winning.’ Me, or the tempeh? Am I right when I say there is just no helping this stuff? That no matter how you prepare it, the texture is hard to get past, the taste is bitter and not pleasant, and that the only way you can eat it is to kill it with sauce and marinades? Or, are there in fact redeeming qualities to the tempeh that haven’t been discovered because I haven’t been preparing it properly? Can tempeh taste good without getting killed with marinades and sauces?

The criteria for me getting a point are:

© Miyo Wratten 2013

© Miyo Wratten 2013

1) Despite following a recipe that calls for correct, complete treatment of the tempeh (as in steaming before marinating, etc.), it still has one or both of the qualities I don’t like: Mealy/liver-like texture and bitter “weird” taste.

2) The dish tries too hard to recreate a ‘meated’ meal. That is to say, it tries to be hamburger, sausage, ham, meatloaf, etc. (Have I mentioned yet how much I dislike that hypocrisy? I have? Good. I’ll mention it again: Tofurkey, go away!) The only exception I’ll make to this is, if in trying to make it like a ‘meated’ meal, it still preserves and highlights the tempeh itself and somehow manages to meld the best of both worlds — the Tempeh Lettuce and Tomato sandwich did just that.

The criteria for the tempeh earning a point are:

1) The dish must taste good because it is taking advantage of the flavor of tempeh. It will not get a point because the marinade or sauce kicks butt on its own – it has to also boost the tempeh. The marinade or sauce’s role must not be to obliterate the flavor of the tempeh.

2) After the cooking of the dish, the texture of the tempeh is pleasant. This is completely subjective, I realize, but I really can’t stand that mealy, liver-like texture. the TLT recipe did a nice job of having us cook the tempeh so it was criper than usual, which not only helped bring out some of the nutty flavor of the tempeh, but also helped change its texture.

So, after the first Tempeh Challenge (TLT) and this week’s dish, here’s the score:

Tempeh: 1
Me: 1

Tempeh gets a point for the TLT, and I get a point for the Indonesian-style skewers. To be clear, I used the recipe for the Sate (linked above) as inspiration. I did not follow it exactly as a) I lacked some of the ingredients and materials needed (like mortar and pestle) and b) I wasn’t about to make the sauce because it was just TOO HOT IN MY HOUSE!!! Even grilling outside was stretching things a bit. I would have been happiest eating a cold fruit salad while sitting in a pool of ice-water … but that’s another story.

© Miyo Wratten 2013

© Miyo Wratten 2013

I will say, though, that I did notice a difference in the taste of the tempeh thanks to steaming it before marinating it in my take on the sate sauce. Some of the more unpleasant bitter-ish taste to it was gone, and instead I was left with that nuttier flavor that I read everyone else in the vegan/vegetarian world raving about. That being said, it didn’t take care of the texture issue for me. So, on the taste front, we were good, but, where the tempeh lost it for me was in that department. Point for me! Yay? … somehow it doesn’t feel like a win, but anyway.

Here’s the recipe I followed to make the Indonesian-Inspired Tempeh Skewers. I’d love for some of you guys try it out and let me know what you think. If you are a lover of tempeh and are not thrown by the texture, how does this measure up? If you’re like me and aren’t thrilled by tempeh, what did you think and why? Would love some feedback if you do try this out!

Without further delay, here’s the recipe for my take on the above recipe:

Indonesian-Inspired Tempeh Skewers
Makes about 8 skewers which would feed around 4 adults

1, 10-ounce package tempeh, cubed into 16 pieces
4 bamboo skewers, soaked for 30 minutes in water so they won’t burn during grilling
1/4 cup vegetable broth
6 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed (I’m lazy, I always crush mine)

© Miyo Wratten

© Miyo Wratten

1) Place tempeh and vegetable broth into a bowl. Cover, and microwave on high for 2 minutes. When time is up, carefully remove cover (it will be hot! Use oven mitts or something) and toss tempeh so the pieces that were on top are now on the bottom. Replace cover and microwave on high for another 2 minutes. I chose to do this in the microwave because it was just too hot to stand over a stove. You can, however, put the tempeh in a steaming basket in a 4-quart saucepan with the vegetable broth (I would increase the amount of broth if you are doing it this way to about 1/2 or 1 cup). Bring the broth to a boil, cover the pot, and let steam for about 10 minutes.

2) Once the tempeh has been steamed, combine soy sauce, olive oil, cumin, coriander and garlic into a bowl. Remove tempeh from bowl or steaming basket, discard vegetable broth and put the tempeh in the marinade. Toss so each tempeh has a coating of the marinade. Cover and set aside for at least 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.

3) Oil the grill and preheat on medium-high setting, preparing it for direct heat cooking. String the marinated tempeh cubes onto the bamboo skewers that have been soaking in water. Try to get around 4 pieces on each skewer.

4) Place the skewers onto the grill and allow to cook for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Each grill is a little different, so keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn. You do want a little char on the tempeh, but you also don’t want charcoal briquettes. Turn the skewers and cook on the other side. Serve warm.

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2 thoughts on “Tempeh Challenge: Indonesian-Inspired Tempeh Skewers

  1. You can also soak the tempeh in a salt bath before cooking/marinating, which is very common in Indonesian recipes. On my site I have western and asian style Tempeh recipes. When I first started using Tempeh, I had a similar opinion.. it wasn’t until I used fresh unpasteurized Tempeh that I realized what I was missing. Unpasteurized doesn’t have that bitter flavor, and the white mycelium gives more of a nutty creamy flavor. Most regions in the U.S. have at least one small local Tempeh shop making fresh Tempeh, usually sold in the freezer section.

    I have been making everything from Tempeh Tuna Salad (to appease my live-in pescatarian) to Sambal Goreng Tempe (Indonesian spicy fried tempeh) recently, and have had much better luck 🙂

    Great post!

    • Oh wow thanks for that insight! I never knew there was pasteurized and unpasteurized versions of tempeh. I’ll definitely take a look at your recipes and try some out. My new mission will be to be on the lookout for the unpasteurized tempeh!!! Very appreciative!

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