So, I got it in my head to try to copy Tempeh La La, my favorite dish from Santa Cruz's own vegan Sri Lankan Restaurant, Asian Rose/Malabar. I did some sleuthing, and it turns out Tempeh La La is just their version of a classic Indonesian dish, Kering Tempeh. The tempeh is fried, and then covered in a sweet, spicy sauce. Served over brown rice (1 C. long-grain basmati brown rice, 2 1/4 C. water, 1 tsp. margarine, 1/2 tsp. salt, brought to a boil, then simmered 45 minutes), this stuff can't be beat!
Here's my version. It uses red onion instead of shallots (hey, I had one lying around, and by the time it's fried in thin, chewy strands and covered in spicy sauce, you honestly can't tell the difference), and is not difficult to prepare. The most important thing is to prep all your ingredients before hand -- have the tempeh, onions, and garlic sliced, the tamarind paste dissolved, the brown sugar measured out, your paper towel-lined plate on the counter in advance . . . this will streamline the process and eschew possible kitchen tornado disaster!
Coco's Tempeh Awesome
Prep time: About an hour and 15 minutes
1 C. canola oil for frying
1 8oz package tempeh (I like the multigrain kind)
1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced into very thin half moons
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp. chili paste (I use sambal badjak, which has onions added, but you can use regular sambal oelek, or a small red chili, seeded and finely chopped)
1 tsp. tamarind paste, dissolved in 1 C water
2 quarter-inch rounds galangal root, bruised
3 two-inch pieces of lemongrass stalk and bulb, bruised
1/2 C. brown sugar
1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, then slice tempeh into small pieces, about 1/2" long, 1/4" wide, 1/4" tall. Place the tempeh on a baking sheet and leave in the oven for 45 minutes, until dried out a bit. This will improve the crunchy texture. You can prepare your brown rice while the tempeh hangs out in the oven.
2. In a 10" skillet (I used a cast iron one), heat the canola oil to about 375 degrees. With a slotted spoon, place the tempeh in the oil and fry about three minutes, until golden brown. Remove the tempeh to a paper towel-lined plate. Then fry the onion slices until brown, about five minutes, and drain. Finally, fry the garlic slices, and take them out almost instantly, because those'll burn quick! Let all these items sit on the plate while you turn off the heat, let the pan cool until the oil is cool enough to pour into a jar (for later use or disposal), then pour out all the oil except 2 tablespoons.
3. Over low heat, add the chili paste, tamarind paste dissolved in water, galangal, lemongrass, and brown sugar to the skillet. Raise heat to medium-high, and reduce the sauce until it's about 1/2 the volume you started with, and has taken on a slightly syrupy consistency. This will take about ten minutes.
4. Pick out the lemongrass stalks and galangal pieces, then stir in the tempeh, onions, and garlic, mixing to coat evenly. Serve over rice and ENJOY!