Braised Tempeh, Three Ways

MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

TIME: 30 minutes

Tempeh gives any cooking liquid even water a haunting flavor that provides a great backdrop for other, more assertive flavors like coconut milk, vinegar and chiles, or soy and tomatoes. The result is three very different dishes with one simple technique. If you add cooked vegetables to this dish (virtually any will work; just stir them in with the bean thread), you have a quick one-bowl dinner.

Try replacing the bean thread here with 2 or 3 cups cooked rice vermicelli or whole wheat angel hair pasta; both are great.

2 tablespoons peanut oil or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

8 ounces (about 2 cups) tempeh

1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon curry powder (to make your own, see Hot Curry Powder)

2 cups vegetable stock or water

2 cups coconut milk, either made from scratch or canned (use 1 can, slightly less than 2 cups, with a little water)

3 cups chopped cabbage, preferably Napa

4 ounces (2 bundles) bean thread noodles, soaked and cut (see The Basics of Asian Noodles)

1/2 chopped fresh basil leaves, preferably Thai, or parsley

1/2 cup sliced scallion

Put the oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot, use 2 forks or your fingers to crumble the tempeh into the hot oil. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping up any browned bits, until the tempeh begins to color and gets crisp on all sides, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and garlic and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Keep cooking and stirring until the vegetables soften and the tempeh is deeply colored, another minute or two. Stir in the curry powder.

Add the stock and coconut milk. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, then lower the heat so that the mixture bubbles somewhat assertively. Leave uncovered and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens a bit, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the cabbage and give it a minute or two to wilt. Add the noodles, basil, and scallion, and when the mixture just begins to bubble again, taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.

Variations

Hot and Sour Braised Tempeh. Increase the oil to 3 tablespoons. Along with the ginger and garlic, add 1 tablespoon minced fresh chile (like jalapeo or Thai), or to taste, or hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste. Use sugar instead of the curry powder. Omit the coconut milk and increase the amount of stock or water to 31/2 cups. When you add the liquid in Step 2, stir in 1/4 cup each of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Proceed with the recipe, using cilantro instead of the basil if you like.

Braised Tempeh with Soy and Tomato Sauce. Try this with pasta instead of the bean thread noodles or omit the noodles entirely and spoon this over polenta: Omit the curry powder. In Step 2, instead of the stock and coconut milk, use 4 cups chopped tomato (canned is fine; include the juice), plus 1/4 cup soy sauce. You will need to cook the mixture for another 5 minutes or so to thicken it up. Use spinach instead of the cabbage if you like. Proceed with the recipe, finishing with basil or parsley.