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

best damn chicken title card

The Best Damn Chicken

As I recently noted in the recipe for Tea-Smoked Chicken, I want to like chicken. But most of the time…I just don’t. People always go on about how easy it is to cook, but they never mention the word “perfectly”—and for good reason. Chicken has a very small window of perfection. Overcook it the least bit, it’s dry and chewy. Undercook it and it’s not just repulsive, it’s dangerous. So this is why I’m excited about the best damn chicken. Ever. (I added that last part just to sound like all the other bloggers. You gotta do that single word period thing if you really want to play in the big leagues….) Here it is topping a salad (recipe coming soon!). Jump straight to the recipe for the best damn chicken or read my Fabulous Commentary and Step by Step.

First off, let’s address the whole meat thing. I’m not wild about the texture of chicken thighs, despite everyone insisting that they’re more flavorful. That flavor comes from extra fat, and that fat gives the meat a texture that I just find weird. As a child, the smell of roasting meat, particularly beef, which my mom cooked every freaking Sunday, used to make me gag. I still don’t eat mammals except for (forgive me) an occasional bit of bacon.

For the meat-squeamish, dark chicken meat—thighs, wings, drumsticks—just doesn’t cut it. Even when boneless, but especially when the bones are still in there. That whole gnawing-on-a-bone thing appears to be the height of primal ecstasy for some folks. For me, a medieval banquet sounds about as fun as living in medieval times. In other words, head lice, chastity belts (call me uncomfy!), and a lot more people who look like this…

princess bride boo lady than this:

princess bride buttercup

So right off the bat, you can bet that the best damn chicken is breast meat. Boneless and skinless. Yeah, I’m sort of like a picky 6-year-old here, and I am So OK With It.

Here’s how I prep it.

Best Damn Chicken: Cutting and Marinating

Best damn chicken starts with marinating boneless chicken breasts, because chicken breasts are hella bland. In order to expose as much surface as possible and, at the same time, make sure there are no disgusting tendon surprises in the meat, I cut the meat into about 2-3 inch pieces. The marinade needs salt due to the bland factor, and soy sauce functions beautifully in that role. There’s also some acid for tenderizing, via , and minced garlic and ginger for more flavor. If you were preparing this to go with Italian food, you could sub a super flavorful (read: not from Costco) broth for the soy sauce, and leave out the ginger in favor of some oregano. Let the chicken soak in that for at least half an hour; I like to do 3-4 hours myself.

best damn chicken marinade

(You could probably do it overnight in a pinch, though I haven’t tried it and can’t guarantee that the marinade won’t start to break down the texture. But given that it’s just a small amount of acid, I think you can get away with it.)

(Also? It is even harder to make this pretty than Chia Seed Pudding. I tried….)

Best Damn Chicken: Coating

First, heat your oven to 400º. Place a parchment lined rimmed dish or baking sheet in the oven to warm up. I like to put a little butter, say 2 tsp or so, on the sheet to melt.
While the oven preheats, mix up an egg in one bowl. Lift the chicken out of the marinade, then place it in the egg bowl and stir it around. Let it sit while you cover a plate in the flour of your choice; gluten-free will work just fine. Fish the pieces out of the egg one at a time with a fork; you’ll probably end up using your fingers at some point, but I’m just warning you it’s pretty messy. Put the egg-covered chicken piece in flour and turn it so that it’s lightly covered in flour. Some missing spots are ok, and it’s more of a dusting, not a dunk. Depending on how much you’re making, you might want to have a rack over a piece of parchment to hold the egged and floured chicken as it finishes.

best damn chicken coating

You could also shake 2 pieces at a time in a bag with flour; I just don’t know many people who keep paper bags around these days (not the small ones, like we used to use for lunch bags, which are kinda perfect for this).

Best Damn Chicken: Baking

Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven, and, if desired, add about a teaspoon or so of oil to the melted butter. You can either set the egged and floured pieces directly on the heated baking sheet, or you can just keep them on the rack, in which case there’s no need to have any fat on the baking sheet. But I find the fat adds a nice richness to the chicken. The rack method is not really going to yield a fried consistency, no matter what people tell you about oven fried chicken.
(BTW, I’m currently scouting for deals on an air fryer to see if they’re all they’re cracked up to be, but I have to say I’m skeptical that blowing all that hot air on food is really going to be good for it….)

Bake 10 minutes, flip the chicken, and it really only needs about another 3-4 minutes to be perfect. Add it to anything, especially a big salad or bowl. Or just dip it in ranch dressing. Thoroughly toothsome, to go slightly medieval on you.

best damn chicken baked

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Best Damn Chicken: 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

cold sesame noodles

Cold “Sesame” Noodles with Tons of Veggies

Since Cold sesame noodles have sustained me through many a New York night. After all, weekly Chinese takeout stands as a hallowed tradition in any New York apartment without a decent kitchen—basically, every apartment I ever occupied during my years in the city.Read this little prologue, followed by a step by step, or jump to the recipecold sesame noodles, an easy recipe from le chou fou Once I moved away, in 1999, I pretty much gave up cold sesame noodles. The ones I’ve sampled here in the midwest are pretty, pretty bad. I did have a bang-up recipe for them years ago, from fellow New Yorker Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. But once my daughter left home and the divorce went through, I found I was the only person craving them. My son never developed the taste.And yet, when friends recently popped by in this hottest of summer, I happened on the following version (with modifications, including very little sesame to speak of) and thought, what could be finer?

Note that there is no sesame in this version other than in the oil; I used peanut butter, so honestly, that title is a TOTAL shell game. Ha! I’ll best you yet, Google. OK, that actually isn’t possible. You can buy sesame paste—NOT tahini, which has a different preparation—at Asian markets, and you could replace the peanut butter with that. But you can buy peanut butter anywhere, and you could really use any nut butter you fancy or have on hand, I’m guessing, except coconut, which is distinctly sweet. OK, that paragraph was a lot longer than anticipated.

Here’s my adaptation of the “Saucy Asian Noodle Salad” from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates (Clarkson Potter, 2003). And here’s the cookbook if you want to check it out.

Step One: Prepare the dressing
The original version of this suggested marinating tofu. I blew this off as I’d decided to (forgive me, vegan and vegetarian friends) tea smoke some chicken as the protein. Here’s the formula:

  • 4 parts nut butter
  • 2 parts each soy sauce and citrus juice (I used limes, and liked them, though the original called for lemon; orange would also work)
  • 1 part brown or coconut sugar (or skip it if you’re sugar averse)
  • 1/2 part each rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil
  • grated fresh ginger and sriracha or gochujang to taste

Either way, add the nut butter last. If you want to marinade tofu or tempeh, use the dressing ingredients first without the nut butter. Then, after an hour or so, remove the tofu or tempeh and mix in the nut butter. Waiting to add it to the end makes it a lot easier to mix. And DO NOT use the marinade on any sort of raw meat, or you’ll have to discard it.

cold sesame noodles, an easy recipe from le chou fou: dressing

Step Two: Noodles and veggies
I used about 1.5 ounces of pasta per person, and I went with the recommended soba; both the texture and flavor work nicely. As an alternative, fresh egg noodles—the Asian kind, not the fat German or Eastern European ones—or ramen will do in a pinch. Grate about 1 carrot and 1 radish per person, and add a handful of chopped or baby greens per person as well. Since I had dandelion and baby bok choy on hand, but once again, any flavorful tender greens should do the trick.

cold sesame noodles, an easy recipe from le chou fou: veggies

Step Three: Mix it all together.
Exactly what the header says. Top with toasted sesame seeds, chopped nuts, crumbled seaweed, minced cilantro—whatever floats your boat. I was going to use sesame seeds, but Steve seems to have eaten them all, and by then I was all, dammit, I’m hungry. Just take the picture already.

cold sesame noodles, an easy recipe from le chou fou

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  • Cold Sesame Noodles: The Recipe

Kale Salad That You’ll Actually Want to Eat

In the kale post (and in the soon-to-be released video), I lament the sad state of kale salad everywhere. Mistreated, disrespected kale garners undeserved Yuck Faces and eye rolls far too often. “NOT KALE,” I have heard many a time.

Jump to recipe.

kale, destemmed and ready to slice thinSo why does this happen? 3 reasons:

  1. The cook fails to remove the big, chewy stems, evident in the picture above.
  2. S/he then tears or hacks the leaves into big, indigestible chunks (as opposed to the delicate shreds the vegetable deserves, pictured directly below).
  3. Adding insult to injury, the cook now throws the kale into the salad bowl as if it were ordinary lettuce.

shredded kale for kale salad

To which I must bellow, Unfair to the eater and the kale! Why, for the love of Michelle, would one create any barriers to ingesting this nutritional powerhouse? Of course kale teems with fiber and vitamin A. But Did You Know that every bite also delivers loads of calcium and potassium? Well, it does (and you can read up on vitamin stats to your heart’s content at this link.)

But the primary reason that I find kale so easy to love is its sturdiness. The stuff holds up under an avalanche of pretty much any dressing you want to slather on it, including heavy ones based in mayo or nut butter. (i provide an easy one with these ingredients below.)

ingredients for an almond butter dressing for kale salad

In fact, it holds up a little too well. Which is why I recommend the kale massage, in which you place the de-stemmed, ribbon-cut slices in a bowl with olive oil and salt, put on some sexy music, and give it a good rub-down for about 2 minutes. The results, especially when tossed with some sweet crunchy cabbage or romaine, will make your palate smile.

kale gets an olive oil and salt massage

Kale salad follows the same rules as other salads: 3 pieces of flair added to the kale/cabbage combo. Some suggestions here:

  • Apple, carrot, beet, and radish are all delightful for crunch; grate any one of them, or cut in a fine julienne.
  • Dried fruit adds wonderful chewiness; for a juicier sweet, sliced kiwi and grapefruit work beautifully.
  • Add roasted veggies like squash or cauliflower.
  • Sprouts and microgreens provide a nice flavor contrast when sprinkled on at the end.
  • For meat-eaters, kale and pig are friends. Crackling bacon is a glorious kale salad adjunct for the unapologetic carnivore.
  • Roasted walnuts or tamari-spiked sunflower seeds add meatless crunch.
  • kale salad ingredients include kale and cabbage, carrot, grapefruit, and an almond butter dressing

As usual, a main salad can go more flair-wild. Should you choose the nut butter dressing here, you’ll get some protein. But add more if you like. In addition to the usual animal options, goat cheese is wonderful for vegetarians, smoked tempeh or coconut bacon for vegan.

For a fully-spelled out recipe for a superb, flair-crazy vegan kale salad, see Teagan’s amazing detox version here. (I eat this one about once a month, but I always shred the kale rather than tearing it roughly as she suggests.) Or make up your own, and instead of carefully choosing three pieces of flair from the list above, go crazy with 5 or 6 or even more. And the fine thing is, kale’s chewy goodness won’t get lost in the shuffle no matter how many things you throw at it.

kale salad with grapefruit, sunflower seeds, and shredded carrot

Kale Salad: The Recipe