Despite this post about sticky ginger tempeh today, I am really fussy about tempeh in general. I know that it’s good for me and that it’s a superstar source of vegan protein, but sometimes the flavour/texture of it doesn’t sit right. I’m not a picky eater, but there’s something about tempeh that presents a mental block for me. I will pump myself up to eat it, load it up with the flavours that I like, and then I’ll put one morsel in my mouth and immediately feel like spitting it out. What gives!
Every once in a while I hit on the right combination of cooking method and flavour treatment though. This marinated and grilled tempeh is a good example, and also this broccoli caesar with smoky tempeh bits from my cookbook is another application that I enjoy. Both methods turn to deep browning and big flavours for a tasty end result.
Maybe you’re wondering though: what even is tempeh? Tempeh is a fermented “cake” made from cooked soybeans (and sometimes other grains like rice or kamut) that have been inoculated with a fermentation starter. It’s been made and enjoyed in Indonesia for thousands of years. The fermentation process helps to break down the phytic acid in the soybeans and also enables better digestion of the starches.
The culturing is also what gives us the solid patty-like texture and signature nutty/earthy flavour. Tempeh can taste mushroom-y and this is likely because the culturing results in a thin film of mycelium (fungus!) that encases the soybeans. And a historical fun fact: It is thought that tempeh-making became an accidental byproduct of tofu making, which was introduced by Chinese immigrants to the island of Java during the 17th century. The more you know :)
Knowing its origins and production process, we can begin to understand why tempeh tastes so good with super punchy and rich flavours like chili, ginger, coconut, lime, and soy sauce, which happens to be the flavour profile we’re going with here in this recipe! We first steam the tempeh to remove any trace of bitterness. Then, it’s crumbled up and lightly browned, and finally finished with a tamari-based treatment with lots of ginger, garlic, a bit of sweetness, and some heat (which is optional). The sauce thickens slightly, clinging to the browned bits of tempeh. I opted to serve this with some coconut rice to make it a bit more special and to play off of the ginger and lime.
I also want to add that the flavour base of soy sauce, sugar, ginger, and garlic does have elements of the flavour profile of bulgogi—Korean marinated and barbecued beef. Definitely not saying that this tempeh is precisely like that dish—just acknowledging the sauce and flavour similarities. My recipe here does not have sesame oil and it also uses lime for acidity. If you want to read a bit more about bulgogi and check out a vegan recipe for it with soy curls, take a look at this post from the Veggiekins blog.
Hope you give this sticky ginger tempeh recipe a try—especially all of my tempeh skeptics. It’s sticky, salty, spicy, lightly caramelized, and bright. A huge flavour bomb with the most lush coconut rice accompaniment. The tempeh itself comes together pretty quick, which is a nice bonus! Hope you’re all keeping well out there.
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Sticky Ginger Tempeh with Coconut Rice
- 1 cup full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon coconut palm sugar
- sea salt, to taste
- 1 cup brown basmati rice, thoroughly rinsed
- ½ teaspoon lime zest
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 1 8 oz block of tempeh, cut into 1 inch slices
- ¼ cup tamari soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons coconut palm sugar
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce of choice (optional–or use less!)
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon avocado or other heat-tolerant oil
- sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- This tempeh is also delicious with plain rice, but I wanted to give you the option of taking things to the next level! I would serve this with a simple side of steamed/roasted broccoli or green beans.
- I haven’t tried this recipe with a fluid sweetener like maple syrup or agave nectar. My hunch is that the sauce will not thicken around the tempeh bits as much and you may have to introduce a starch.
- Steaming the tempeh ahead of time is a key step! It helps to reduce that trace of bitterness.
- Make the coconut rice. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the coconut milk, water, coconut sugar, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring a few times to dissolve the sugar. Add the rinsed brown basmati rice to the saucepan and stir. Bring the coconut rice up to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and then cover the saucepan with a lid. Simmer until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, about 40 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Add the lime zest and juice to the coconut rice and fluff/lightly stir with a fork. Return the lid to the pot and let it sit on the warm stove for 3-4 minutes, or keep warm until ready to serve.
- Make the sticky ginger tempeh. Cover the bottom of a medium skillet with water and place it on the stove over medium heat. Once it’s simmering, add your tempeh slices and cover. Steam the tempeh for 10 minutes. Remove the tempeh from the skillet with tongs and place it on a plate to cool. Rinse the skillet and wipe it out. You’ll be using it to finish the tempeh.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari, coconut sugar, hot sauce, and lime juice. Set aside.
- Pat the steamed tempeh with some a clean kitchen towel to dry. Crumble the tempeh into little pieces.
- Return the skillet to the stove over medium-high heat. Pour in the avocado oil and swirl it around. Add the tempeh to the skillet and stir. Sauté the tempeh until the pieces are lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Season the tempeh with salt and pepper and stir. Add the ginger and garlic to the skillet and stir until quite fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Pour the tamari mixture into the skillet and stir, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the skillet with a spatula if necessary. Keep cooking the tempeh until the sauce has caramelized slightly and turned deeper brown, about 6-7 minutes. Check the sticky ginger tempeh for seasoning and then adjust if necessary (more salt, pepper, hot sauce, lime etc).
- Serve the sticky ginger tempeh hot with coconut rice and sliced green onions.