Tempeh Stir-Fry

There’s a reason I had to come up with a decent-tasting tempeh stir fry.

tempeh-stir-fry

Read about it, along with the step by step instructions, unless you want to just jump to the recipe. Also know that, if beef is your thing—or chicken or shrimp—this will work just fine.

I’ve been very open about my no-beef policy. But guess what picture stops my little heart every time I see it? (In a good way, mind you, not a CPR-requiring way.) Beef stir-fry. I see them all the time, the strips of meat looking all dark and salty next to bright green broccoli or asparagus and shocking red strips of bell pepper. And I think, hmmm, I want that. But….beef! Ick.

I’ve never been a huge burger fan, either, so this stir-fried beef visual craving is just plain weird.

(I’m not, by the way, going to try to convert any of you beef lovers out there. Truthfully, I don’t eat beef because the texture freaks me out, and I just don’t like how it tastes. BUT at a recent show at the California Academy of Sciences, this incredible museum in the middle of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, I saw the difference between the carbon footprint of a hamburger vs a turkey burger or veggie burger. Let’s just say I felt quite, quite smug and righteous, because that carbon footprint for one beef burger is Massive. Lessening your beef consumption really can make a huge positive difference to the planet. I mean, I believe the planet’s going to take care of itself; it’s just going to get pretty gnarly for us as a species to continue to live here, particularly with some of our more insane practices. One of which is destroying the rain forest—which we really require in order to breath—so MacDonald’s can make more money. And c’mon, those burgers are total crap, and also, how much money do those guys need? If you do eat beef, support a local ethical cattle farmer. They exist! That way, you help out a local farmer, which gets a big yay in my book, and you put higher quality fuel in your body. And if enough folks will make the switch, the rain forests and subsequently Planet Earth have a better shot at being healthy as well.)

Tempeh Stir-Fry: Why Tempeh?

According to many vegan cookbooks, the go-to alternative to beef is wheat gluten or seitan, which is pronounced very close to the name of the Great Deceiver Himself. Appropriate, because are you seriously going to chew on a big old piece of gluten? I mean, that just seems so, so wrong. Tofu I like, but it’s tofu. Nobody’s going to convince you it’s anything else, and I recognize that for most of the world, tofu is to them what beef is to me, i.e. a really bizarre texture and something most folks just don’t want to put in their mouths.

Tempeh Stir-Fry: The Marinade

So tempeh. Tempeh comes out of the package looking a bit weird and pebbly. You could just fry it, but you will probably be sad. Let’s admit that, in the flavor department, tempeh makes you wish for bland. Because bland is more interesting than tempeh. Here it is after marinating, and it STILL looks pretty boring.

tempeh stir-fry

But that marinade is the solution. And while I’m still experimenting, so far in my experience, only a soy-sauce based marinade does the trick. Tempeh needs the salt pretty seriously, or at least the salt flavor. A low sodium soy sauce will do the trick just fine. Give it at least four hours to soak, but for this recipe, I let it sit for 36 with no detriment.

My tempeh marinade was inspired by tempeh stir-fry

Last of all mix up a little sauce from sake. Yes, you can use cooking sherry or white wine if they’re what you have on hand. Sake, however, is my go to for cooking. For one thing, unlike wine, I’m not tempted to drink it. But that flavor I’m not crazy about in a glass is glorious in a saute pan: clean, bright, just a little sweet. Other sauce ingredients should include a little more soy—about 1 part to 2-3 parts sake—and a splash of rice vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and 4 parts broth or water. Carefully sprinkle in some cornstarch or potato starch, about a tablespoon for 1/4 cup of liquid, and whisk til smooth. This is how you get that syrupy finish that makes a classic Chinese stir-fry, well, classic. Make sure you have it made up ahead of time so you can just throw it in at the last minute.

Heat your pan, then your oil, and fry the tempeh first, about 4 minutes a side. Then remove it to a plate.

tempeh stir-fry

Add a little more oil—you really do need to be pretty generous with it if you don’t want stuff to stick. First add your minced garlic and ginger. Then sauté the veggies in the order of longest to shortest cooking time. Of this batch, eggplant cubes took the longest, then bell peppers, mushrooms, green beans, carrots, and scallions.

tempeh stir-fy

Give the starch/broth mix one last whisk, then pour it in. Steam will rise dramatically, so have a lid handy to capture it.

After a few minutes, remove the lid and mix in the cubed jicama and, if you like, chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of hemp hearts, sesame seeds, or even toasted nuts or seeds if you like. I put some noodles on the side, because I love them.

Enjoy with chopsticks or—sigh—if you must, a fork.

tempeh-stir-fry

Tempeh Stir Fry: The Recipe

Tea Smoked Chicken

Tea smoked chicken sounds like a pain in the ass. It isn’t. Super simple to make, it is seriously some of the most flavorful and tender chicken I’ve eaten. I’m not big on chicken because, I dunno, unless the texture is just right, it bugs me. Also, tendons equal a giant “ewww” in my book. So once again, this one does the trick, makes the house smell heavenly and stands in for all that rotisserie chicken called for in many, many ready-made magazine recipes that I run into. The recipe was inspired by and adapted from one in Nina Simonds’ 1999 cookbook, A Spoonful of Ginger.

tea smoked chicken

Faithful and beloved vegan and vegetarian readers, I do think this will work beautifully on tempeh as well. I mean to try it, but haven’t yet. If it works for you, please post a photo and tag me on Instagram or Twitter or Pinterest (@nanlechou). Or comment. Whatever, I love feedback.

Tea-smoked chicken (or tempeh) is about process, so I recommend you read the step by step, but as always, feel free to jump directly to the recipe.

Step 1: Prepare the marinade. Lately, I am considering a chicken marinade an essential, don’t-skip step. I’m not that crazy about chicken. It’s too easy to under or overcook it (unless you deep fry it, and homey don’t play that any more, alas. Deep-fried chicken completely rocks, but it’s way too messy and just not the pinnacle of health no matter how you slice it). Also, it’s hella bland. A marinade—with some soy, ginger, garlic, a teench of sugar, maybe some sake—gooses (ha!) the flavor up big time.

Step 2: While the meat marinates, which can be anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight, prepare the smoking mixture. First, line a pot with a tight fitting lid with foil. This is essential so you don’t burn your pot. Then, add about 2 parts sugar—coconut sugar is outstanding here, but brown will do—to 1 part tea. For one chicken breast, one tablespoon is a good part. Put that in the bottom of a pan with some chunks of citrus rind and some cinnamon, and you’re good to smoke. Break up some skewers—I keep some around for testing cakes, on the rare occasion that I make them—in half and make a little hashtag in the bottom of your pot.

tea smoked chicken smoking mixture

Step 3: Steam the marinated chicken til just tender—like so barely cooked through, you wouldn’t eat it unless you smoked it, which you’re about to do.

Step 4: Smoke the steamed chicken by putting it on top of the skewer hashtag. Then cover it with a foil protected lid. Turn the pot on to high heat; as soon as it starts smoking (and it will smell amazing), turn off the heat. The pot, and the chicken inside, will still smoke away.

Lengths of time for steaming and smoking depend on both the amount and type of chicken. Boneless or with bone? Thigh, breast, or whole megillah? So you might, in particular, want to smoke or steam a tad bit longer; Nina Simonds recommends 15 minutes smoking over high heat for 2 whole chicken breasts with bones, which is a lot o’ bird. The thing is, the chicken’s done from steaming and that initial blast of smoke, and by keeping it in the pot and not lifting the lid, it’s getting more smoky goodness and more done without getting dried out. But cooking’s always a little bit of an experiment. Your stove, your ingredients, your preferences are yours. Play with this til you’re happy with it and have the smoked chicken of your dreams on your plate.

tea smoked chicken

Steve seriously sort of freaked out about this, in a good way. Like me, chicken is about the last protein he wants to eat, but lately I’ve come around to it since I can get an ethically sourced version, and we really only have it once a week anyway, at most. Let me know if you agree, either in the comments or over on the old insta feed (@nanlechou).

I think I’m going to have to try the tea smoking on tofu and tempeh, as well, for a vegan version. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Enjoy!

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Tea Smoked Chicken