I found myself giving a "cooking lesson" at the market the other day. I was going about my own business buying some tempeh from the stall, when an elderly aunty stopped me as I was paying.
"How do you cook this?" she asked in mandarin.
"Oh, err ... very easy. Just slice them thinly this way," I demonstrated cross-wise, on the piece of tempeh I was holding. "Then you fry them till crispy ..."
"You mean, just fry and eat?" she interjected, looking incredulous.
"No, no! That wouldn't be nice," I replied. "You have to coat them in a sauce."
"A sauce?" asked the granny standing next to the aunty.
"Er ... yes," I struggled. By this time, two other ladies within earshot had taken interest in our conversation, and closed in to listen.
"You have to fry the tempeh pieces till they are crispy," I repeated. "Then you put them aside. Next, you fry some shallots, chilli and garlic in oil until aromatic."
"When the shallots have softened, you add some water, some salt, and some sugar. Maybe a spoonful, depending on how sweet you want it to be. Keep stir frying over a small flame, until you get thick syrup. Then you throw the fried tempeh back in and coat them quickly in the sauce. And that's it!"
"Ohhh," came the collective response.
"For colour, you can add a dash of kicap manis. If you want to skip that, it's fine too," I went on. "BUT, the kicap manis makes the tempeh look and taste better."
"What's kicap manis?" one of them asked quizzically.
*Note that this brand has got a salty version too (in green wording). Make sure you buy the sweet version, with red wording, as seen above. I used to mistake this for a shrimp sauce, because of all the misleading logo and the word "udang" on the label. It's actually made of soya beans, and suitable for vegetarian cooking.
"Ah, it's a thick, sweet, dark sauce that is commonly used in Malay and Indonesian dishes," I answered, warming up to the idea of hosting my own reality cooking show.
"Over there," I pointed to the stall selling dried goods. "I usually buy mine from them."
Thinking the "class" was over, I prepared to make a move. But no, everyone wanted a recap!
"I am so old already," the granny jokingly lamented. "If you don't repeat, I won't be able to remember."
To say it was a surreal moment is an understatement. I felt like I was doing a roadblock on The Amazing Race - you don't get your clue until the old lady's satisfied with how you've performed your task.
But still, for what it was worth, it brought a smile to my face each time I thought about my morning. :)
Tempeh + broccoli + rice = my meatless Saturday lunch.
Now, here's a recap for those who need it.
(serves 2 to 3)
- 2 packets tempeh (which means 4 large pieces in total), sliced cross-wise, about 1cm thick
- 3 to 4 shallots, sliced thinly
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red chilli, sliced (de-seed only if you want it less spicy, or leave it out if you are cooking for children)
- 1 to 2 tbsps sugar, adjust according to taste
- Pinch of salt
- Water (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup), adjust accordingly
- 1 Tbsp kicap manis (I use Habhal's Kicap Manis)
1. Fry tempeh slices in oil till crispy. Set aside.
2. In a skillet, over a small flame, fry shallots, garlic and chilli till aromatic. When shallots have softened, add some water, sugar and salt, and continue frying till you get a caramelised syrup.
3. Throw in fried tempeh pieces into the skillet and toss to coat them evenly. Add splashes of kicap manis and continue tossing. Once all the tempeh have been coated in the sauce, dish up and serve.
Omit the chilli if you're cooking for the little ones. It's a good way to get children to start eating tempeh.